I want to begin by thanking Senator Roberts for bringing this matter to the attention of the Senate and to me. Senator Roberts, I want to work with you. I want to agree with you, but you make it so hard with your speeches.
I want to start on the broad point of principle of what Senator Roberts has come to say, and that is that freedom of assembly and freedom of association should entail that people should have the right to express themselves in an orderly and sensible way within council ordinances and rules in a way that allows them to express faith or whatever else, be it Christianity or another issue. They could be preaching about religion or about an altruistic cause. People do and should have that right.
Beyond that, I think what Senator Roberts has been saying is that, in particular, we need to be careful and make sure that people have the space for religious freedom and have the space to express their religious views, and a public place in Brisbane is the type of place that should be allowed. Furthermore, I believe that what Senator Roberts has been saying is that he feels that the individual targeting of Christian street preachers has been excessive, has gone too far and that their rights and liberties have been impacted.
It is hard to speak too much to the specifics of the individual cases. I know there have been certain matters that have gone to court. I had a chance today to look at some of the court documents. As a point of principle, I think what Senator Roberts is saying is actually correct: we need to make sure there is the appropriate space for people to be able to express their views, express faith, and the permit system that exists around the PAA is an appropriate mechanism where you get the balance right between people being able to get up and express their own religious views in the same way as a trade union or organisation would while at the same time having to fall within certain guidelines about what you can and cannot do. People do also have the right to walk unhindered.
So on one level I agree with the principle of what Senator Roberts is saying. On the specifics—again, I cannot go to all the specifics—again, consider the language that is being used here. To use terms like ‘cultural Marxism’, to refer to it as ‘gestapo’, to throw around ‘anti-Semitism’ rather than trying to come here and have a practical, sensible debate about how we can look at reforming some of these laws to make sure that there is that religious freedom and freedom of association—frankly, I think the language just goes a little too far and becomes counterproductive to what is trying to be achieved.
If Senator Roberts’s case is that council officers have gone too far and are not giving people enough freedom of association and that some of their tactics have been heavy-handed, from the evidence I have seen and from the speech, I think he has a valid point. But to go and say that this is cultural Marxism, that it is Gestapo-like tactics—and, by the way, pick a dictator. Go down the Gestapo path or go down the Marxist path, but changing between the two is getting confusing for us lefties over here! But to bandy about those kinds of terms, to talk about this as a demonstration that Christianity has never been under more attack, I think, is just language that goes too far. I think it becomes counterproductive. I think the point that you want to make is a practical point.
I know that Senator Roberts and I are both big fans of multiculturalism and we’re both big fans of multicultural Australia! I note that it was today that the government did come out with their multicultural statement. Senator Roberts in his speech highlighted multiculturalism as a failed ideology. I have to pull him up on that. The success of this nation since white settlement beyond the incredible 40,000 years of Indigenous heritage has been on our ability to embrace wave after wave of immigrants and migrants, not our ability to reject them. For us to be able to take the values, the languages, the cultures, the ideas from around the world and, insofar as those values, cultures and ideas do not conflict with our universal values here as a nation, to be able to embrace them is the success of the Australian story.
On this point of freedom and religious freedom, I did want to say this to Senator Roberts and to others. From the floor of the Australian Senate, as a proud Australian with Iranian heritage, today is, as I am sure all senators are aware, Persian New Year, so I say to all my Irani and non-Irani friends, including my fellow Australian senators: eide shoma mobarak. We can come back to my office and we can practise those words together, but eide shoma mobarak. With that, I cede the rest of my time to the Greens senator.
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