Censure Motion: Senator Pauline Hanson


By leave—I, and also on behalf of Senator Waters, move:

That the Senate—

(a) condemns all racism and discrimination against migrants and people of colour;

(b) assures all migrants to Australia that they are valued, welcome members of our society;

(c) affirms that, if Parliament is to be a safe place for all who work and visit here, there can be no tolerance for racism or discrimination in the course of parliamentarians' public debate; and

(d) censures Senator Hanson for her divisive, anti-migrant and racist statement telling Senator Faruqi to 'piss off back to Pakistan', which does not reflect the opinions of the Australian Senate or the Australian people.


Like many migrants and people of colour in this country, I've been told to go back to where I come from hundreds of times. Senator Pauline Hanson did it a few days ago, telling me in a tweet to 'piss off back to Pakistan'. It was a racist slur against me and for her supporters—a deliberate and effective attempt to whip up a frenzy and mobilise a pile on. Right on cue, her tweet triggered an avalanche of—and days of—abusive calls, emails, tweets and comments directed at me, saying things like: 'People will piss on your grave'; 'I will cheer when you die'; 'Your lot are good for target practice'; 'What a dirty, vulgar creature you are'; and 'You are lower than pond life.' Predictably, dozens of versions of 'Shut the eff up, and leave' were also there. While I bore the brunt of it, my family and staff were also subjected to unacceptable vitriol. Someone even called my husband's workplace and told him to go back to where he came from because 'people are effing sick' of us.

Many migrants let me know how triggered they felt after reading Senator Hanson's attack tweet. It never gets easier to deal with racist attacks. It hurts every time. It does shape my sense of worth and belonging to a place which has been home to me for 30 years. It is insulting and it is humiliating but then that is exactly what it is intended to be. Racism takes an immense toll on our mental and physical health. It is an experience that is hard to explain, being despised, not just for what I look like and where I came from but also for having the audacity to participate in public debate. It is even more painful because so often we are told to just get on with it. We are gaslighted by those who have never experienced racism into downplaying our own trauma. We are also gaslighted by those who think engaging in racist attacks constitutes a debate, even though the line between genuine, robust debate and racism and discrimination should actually be clear to everyone.

Senator Hanson crossed that line, as she has done so many other times. While others take for granted the right to voice their opinion, for migrants of colour, our Australianness will always be conditional. It is conditional on us keeping our heads down and mouths shut, it is conditional on us being grateful for being let in, it is conditional on us giving up our identity and assimilating, and it is conditional on us agreeing with those in power, even if it means ignoring our own trauma. Well, to hell with that. Let me say this loudly and clearly to Senator Hanson and to each and every person who joined in at the pile-on, including Senator Lambie: I and everyone like me, us black and brown people, have every right to participate in public debate, just like white people. Yet you hate us for having the temerity to raise our heads above the parapet, to join the public debate on what you see as controversial topics.

In here you try to silence people who hold racism to account instead of the perpetrators of racism. Targets of racism risk being labelled unparliamentary for pointing out blatant racism when it happens, while the racists sit back and relax, protected from the repercussions of outdated, unfit-for-purpose conventions and rules. You will not silence us. I will not be silenced, especially on the topic of the British monarch and monarchy, the head of an empire which ruthlessly colonised, plundered, looted and divided the land of my ancestors. Truth about the empire must be told. I will not toe the line and participate in a wilful delusion about the monarchy, which exists to maintain white supremacy and to make all the beneficiaries of colonialism feel comfortable at the expense of its targets.

Over centuries of rule over most of the Indian subcontinent where I came from, first through the violent and rapacious East India Company and then through the Crown itself, the British monarchy decimated the economy and caused the deaths of millions. They destroyed local industries like textiles and shipbuilding through violence, through taxes, through import tariffs. They taxed locals at exorbitant and unprecedented rates, and, through torture and cruelty, stole vast wealth, which they shipped off to England. Reparations have never been paid by the empire for its barbarism, and much of the loot is still shamelessly held, including in the form of diamonds in the Queen's crown or treasures in British museums.

This nation has experienced British colonialism in its bloodiest form. My solidarity is with the First Nations people, who never ceded their sovereignty of these lands and who continue to bravely speak the truth of empire, often at much personal cost. I have the right to talk about this history without being racially vilified. Senator Hanson's catalogue of racist filth over the past decade is widely known and truly despicable yet she has rarely been held to account, if at all. She has never been held to account for all of the harm that she has caused. She has never been suspended, fined, stripped of her privileges or even just made to apologise.

She faced no real consequences in 1996 when she said this country was in danger of being swamped by Asians and then, again, in 2016 when she claimed that we were now in danger of being swamped by Muslims. She faced no real accountability in 2006 when she claimed Africans coming to Australia had AIDS and were of no benefit to this country. She faced no real sanction in 2017 when she called Islam a disease against which we need to vaccinate ourselves. She faced no real sanction in 2017 when she mockingly wore a burqa into this chamber. But do you know what? It's never too late. We can start today.

I do urge senators to hold your colleagues accountable for unacceptable behaviour and the racial vilification of one of your peers. If you don't, then all your commitments to setting the standard in this place will be nothing but empty rhetoric. The standard you walk past is the standard you accept, and thus far our parliament has accepted this hateful racism of the worst standard. It is no surprise therefore that the Jenkins review found that workers in parliament felt that they wouldn't be taken seriously in raising issues of racism. It's no surprise that First Nations people and people of colour don't see parliament as a safe workplace for them.

It is so important that we recognise that no decent workplace would tolerate the dangerous, unhinged racism that Senator Hanson has displayed against me and others. Thankfully, we have reached a crossroads in defining the kind of workplace we want to be. Whether we get there is another story. The recommendations of the Jenkins report are being implemented by the Parliamentary Leadership Taskforce, and the Joint Select Committee on Parliamentary Standards is developing new codes of conduct for parliament, parliamentarians and parliamentary staff. It is vital that we use these opportunities, which may not come again, to make parliament more safe, respectful and diverse. Our codes of conduct must firmly prohibit racism in our workplaces. Antiracism training must be mandatory for everyone who works here. Racism must be identified and called out every single time that it happens in here or out there, by anyone who works in this place. And people who spew such hate must face serious consequences.

I do understand that Labor has an amendment to my motion and that my motion, probably, is unlikely to get through. And I do have to call this out: the vague statement about respectful debate, which is all well and good, doesn't actually call a spade a spade. In the parliamentary committee that is developing the codes, we heard evidence over two days from people who mentioned to us the best-practice codes of conduct, which call out behaviour like this and hold parliamentarians accountable. But we can't do that without agreeing to this motion that is in front of us. Labor's amendment really lets Senator Hanson off scot-free and gives her a free pass to do this again and again, as she has done in the past.

This is not the standard we want to set in here or out there. We have to name and shame racism and the perpetrators of racism. Censuring Senator Hanson today is really the absolute bare minimum. It is a symbolic but important step that everyone in this place can take to make clear that we condemn racism in all its forms, shapes and sizes. It is a necessary step that we must take to show the many people of colour in this country that parliament is a workplace that will not tolerate racism and that it is simply not okay for anyone, but particularly the people you work with, to racially vilify you.

So I will say it again: racism must be identified and called out every single time, and people who spew such hate must face serious consequences. This must start today. It can start today. Not tomorrow, not next week, not next month, not next year—today. This place needs to set the highest standard today for all others to follow.