Coalition MPs gave themselves licence to spout what I felt was the most appalling racist commentary. Then, with Israel and Hamas, the bellicose warmongering escalated on both sides of this House. I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore—not so. The inhumanity, the venality, the absence of proper, reasoned debate has, yes, shocked me.
Ms WATSON-BROWN (Ryan) (19:30): As we barrel towards the end of 2023, I wish every Australian had the resources to have a happy festive season, but I’m afraid that will not be the case. I’ve been an MP in this place for 18 months. I arrived here in the House hoping, as did many Australians, that this new government would make the comprehensive and urgent change we need for a safe and just future for all Australians. I’m afraid I’ve been disappointed, and I’m not the only one. Many of my Ryan constituents say they are too.
I’ve certainly witnessed some deeply disappointing and indeed disturbing things here in this place. I’ve seen Labor opening new coal and gas mines in a climate crisis, making the cost-of-living crisis worse by refusing to crack down on corporate profiteering and price gouging, and having to be dragged kicking and screaming to actually practically start to address the housing crisis. The sitting week in October after the Voice vote failed was particularly toxic. Coalition MPs gave themselves licence to spout what I felt was the most appalling racist commentary. Then, with Israel and Hamas, the bellicose warmongering escalated on both sides of this House. I thought I couldn’t be shocked anymore—not so. The inhumanity, the venality, the absence of proper, reasoned debate has, yes, shocked me.
Last sitting week was quite loathsome again. We sat here late into the night to facilitate the ramming through of draconian retrograde immigration legislation. The High Court ruled that mandatory detention was illegal, and what did Labor do? Labor quickly wrote extraordinary new anti-refugee laws in a deal with the devil in exchange for passing them through the parliament in a single day. They rammed through legislation to decriminalise their own—it has to be said, and it has been said by some—criminality. This is their attempt to legalise and institutionalise cruelty. These powers are nothing less than Orwellian. I was shocked to see Labor and the coalition line up together on that side of the chamber, colluding to ram through these ill-considered punitive laws.
I had the same level of shock and shame yesterday, with Labor coming back to this place with hastily drafted immigration legislation to apparently patch up the botches of that earlier, rushed legislation. Labor had learnt nothing from that previous week’s sitting, giving the opposition leader the opening to drive again a racist narrative demonising refugees and spreading misinformation. We had virtually no time to review, to scrutinise or to consider this new legislation, first shown to us in the morning, before being again forced to a rushed vote on it that very evening. Shame! This sort of cavalier and cruel behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed by the electorate.
This is the Prime Minister’s Tampa moment. The opposition leader and the media have confected an emergency, and Labor has predictably collapsed under the pressure, just as they did with Tampa—a disgraceful capitulation which undermines key principles of our democracy. As the leader of the Greens said yesterday, we’re dealing with some of the most serious issues that confront this parliament: questions of liberty, of the rule of law, of the Constitution, of the separation of powers. Labor’s draconian actions and laws have made it impossible for us elected representatives to have a sober discussion to properly debate momentous laws and decisions on behalf of the Australian people—in this case, to do with what the High Court can and can’t do.
So, yes, there is disappointment and a bit of shame but a bit of festive season hope. We the Greens are here to stand up for all those Australians so cruelly ignored and disadvantaged by both retrograde legislation and inaction on the climate crisis, the housing crisis and the cost-of-living crisis. The community sees through it, as evidenced in the waning popularity of both government and opposition. Only one-third of Australia voted for the government last time—they squeaked in—and one-third voted for the crossbench. When I arrived here 18 months ago, a very senior politician said to me: ‘Congratulations on your win, Elizabeth. I think we’re witnessing the end of the two-party system.’ If that’s what it takes to bring some heart, some compassion, some conscience, some actual responsibility to act in the interests of all Australians, I say bring it on.