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Firearms should not be carried inside the parliament

Speeches in Parliament
Penny Wright 26 Mar 2015

Senator WRIGHT (South Australia) (13:04):  I stand to speak about the Parliamentary Service Amendment Bill 2014 and in particular schedule 1, about which the Australian Greens have some concerns. That is because it is the view of the Greens that this schedule both create an unnecessary position on the security management board and formalises operational measures as part of the boards remit, both of which the Australian Greens believe are regrettable.

Schedule 1 of the bill seeks to formalise an Australian Federal Police position on the security management board. Whether it is the commissioner or another representative as listed, the Greens believe that this is unnecessary. That is because section 65A of the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 already permits the board to invite the heads of other organisations to attend or to be represented at its meetings. The Australian Greens believe that this discretionary power is sufficient and it is not necessary to formalise that particular position.

In addition, the expansion of the board's remit to include the operation of security is also of concern, particularly in light of recent developments, such as recent ill-thought through decisions-that was subsequently reversed-about face coverings in parliament and also recent steps that have been taken with respect to the introduction of firearms within the chambers of parliament. The Australian Greens are gravely concerned that these developments have seen a move towards what really can be characterised as the militarisation of public space in Australia. It is our view that these changes in the bill will further this trend.

The Australian Greens do not support firearms being carried inside the parliament. We believe that this is a clear divergence from the long-standing practice and convention in the Westminster system, which is that no arms are carried in houses of parliament. We are concerned that this particular change seeks to embody rhetoric of fear in practice by integrating it into our discussions about our parliament and our security. We have to ask just what kind of message are we sending to the greater Australian public if we say that parliamentarians cannot go about their business without being surrounded by armed security. The use of arms in parliament is a breach of a Westminster convention that dates back to the time of King Charles I and the English Civil War. Since the 1640s, weapons have been banned from parliamentary precincts.

The fact is that the Australian Greens believe firmly that more guns do not make people safer. We do not want militarisation of our public spaces and we believe that Australians do not want that either. That particularly includes parliament. We do not want to go the way of America, where it is claimed that only a good guy with a gun can stop the bad guys.

That is not the experience in Australia. It has never been the case in Australia and it should not start now.

In particular, the Australian Greens are very concerned about the political context for the changes that are proposed in this bill. We are living in a time when we have seen, regrettably, a ratcheting up of rhetoric around national security, particularly by the government. Yes, there are serious national security concerns to be had. There is a willingness on the part of the Australian public to engage in thoughtful discussion about how that has to be managed, but there is also a strong view among many that the rhetoric has been employed by the government for its own political ends. We have seen comments and speeches by ministers and especially the Prime Minister which have actually served to heighten fear and division in the Australian community.

Ironically, and unfortunately and destructively for the fabric of Australian society, this rhetoric actually risks making our security worse, not better, particularly for individual Australians, some of whom have become the focus of fear, hatred and increased ugly prejudice from other Australians. We have seen increases in attacks and bullying through some kind of xenophobia or misunderstanding against Muslim women and other women and men who happen to wear headgear, not just Muslims but Sikhs and people from other religious and ethnic backgrounds. That is not a good thing for Australia; it is a destructive thing for Australia. I have heard anecdotes from parents even about children being bullied, and about increased bullying, in schools because of their religious or ethnic background.

The Australian Greens believe that true security in Australia relies on cohesion and unity brought on by policies, rhetoric and leadership that actually bring out the best in us as a people, by the sort of leadership that actually plays to the strengths that we all know we have in multiculturalism, by the sort of leadership, speeches and values enunciated by our leaders that highlight and reinforce the decency and common values that we share, such as the idea that people in Australia should have a fair go. That is what has attracted so many people to come from other places to make a home here and is what has made such loyal citizens of people who have come and become Australian citizens. It is those values and that leadership which will enable Australians ultimately to stand together to refute the horror and cruelty that is so un-Australian and that is personified by organisations like ISIS.

Coming back to the bill under discussion, the Greens do not support moves towards the militarisation of our public spaces, including the parliament. We are concerned that this bill is a step towards that outcome. The Australian Greens believe that this bill can be seen as representing another attempt to scare people into believing that we are unsafe and divided. The Greens will continue to rebut what we see as the unnecessary, sometimes fear-driven, self-serving, and ultimately destructive and counterproductive rhetoric of the government when it comes to national security.

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