12 June 2020

THE SENATE -ADJOURNMENT - Australia: Black Lives Matter SPEECH

I rise tonight to commend the support of senators in terms of the very difficult challenges that our country faces right now. We as a nation have obviously had to deal with an incredible pandemic, and we continue to deal with that. But even more importantly and most recently we are looking at Black Lives Matter and the rallies that have occurred across the country, where close to 100,000 Australians have taken their passion, their purpose and their beliefs to the streets. I've heard many debates and comments not just in the Senate but externally as well, and I come back to what it is that we must all find. Here in this Senate this week I believe we found a common goal. We supported a motion brought before the Senate about Black Lives Matter. I want to explain to the Australian people, and to anyone else who is listening, that when we say, 'Black lives matter,' it's not about saying that no-one else matters. It's not about saying that no-one else's life matters. When the Senate supported the motion of the rallies, of the passion, of the calls to reduce the high incarceration rates of First Nations people, to stop the high rates of removal of First Nations children from their families, to stop the deaths in custody across our country, it was saying: 'We know that that is a great weakness in our country. We know that that is a great weakness in our system of governance not just federally but also state and territory.' No government, no political party, is immune from the fact that there is systemic failure, that a population of people who are not even quite three per cent in this country of over 18 million people can experience such severe suffering.

People have asked, 'Why are you protesting now? This is not a good time.' But just let me remind the Senate and all Australians that when any change that has taken place in the history of not only this country but the history of countries around the world is never at a convenient time. It is never diarised. It is never planned. People are not asked do they want change when there is a deeper movement of spirits, of heart, of a collective call, a cry even, to be heard. That's what's happening in our country. That's what is happening in the hearts and minds of so many Australians.

It's interesting when I reflect on my colleague Senator Pat Dodson when he spoke to our caucus and tried to explain as best he could the complexities and the difficulties that our country is facing. He searched for a common theme. When the Black Lives Matter protesters walk the streets of Australia, they refer to the death of an American man who said, 'I can't breathe. I can't breathe.' And Senator Dodson took those words and said, 'And here we are in a pandemic, and what do people who suffer from COVID-19 say? I can't breathe. I can't breathe.'

So none of this, I believe, is a coincidence. None of this was planned. We didn't come in on 31 January 2019 to witness 1 January 2020 and see any of this happening; none of us did. We didn't see the bushfires coming. We didn't see the hailstorm that hit Canberra. We saw COVID in the distance, but we thought we were okay. And we didn't see George Floyd being such an integral person in the lives of millions of people around the world and who touched something in so many that they were prepared to defy a pandemic that said, 'I can't breathe.'

The challenge for this Senate, for the other House, for our Prime Minister and our leadership is not to create further division and not be afraid to say,' It's so hard that we can't answer these questions.' And it's not to find the solution that is so unfairthe quick fix that says: 'Let's demonise the mob; let's demonise the ones we don't know how to talk to. Let's demonise the ones that we don't understand.' That's the challenge of leaders: that's the challenge for leaders.

We stand in the Senate and we stand in the House of Representatives; we stand to represent the people, because we don't understand. There are so many things I don't understand, but just because I don't understand them doesn't mean that I close the door to them. It doesn't mean that I say: 'Oh, well, that person is yuckforget that! I'm not going to talk to them!' The challenge for leaders and the challenge for the Prime Minister, this Senate and the House of Representatives is to find a path that unites all Australiansall of us. We so desperately need that kind of leadership.

Don't demonise the people who feel so passionately for First Nations people and the high incarceration rates in this country. Don't demonise the people who feel so passionately for the fact that First Nations children are removed at such a dramatic rate in this country. Do not demonise Australian people because they feel so passionately about following their democratic rights to be heard. Do not demonise them; listen to them. Believe in them, as they believe in a cause that moves and shapes them in a way that is profoundly important for our country if we are to walk together as all Australians in peace and with the sense that, though we may never understand each other properly, we must focus on the fact that we can do it together, in unity and with respect for our differences.

So, Prime Minister: don't divide our country. Don't demonise the Australian people who believe or think differently to what you do. Find a better way. Find a way that unites all of us as the people of Australia.

Read the Hansard transcript.