'The path I take today I did not choose. This path chose me.' It's 17 years since I made that statement when I stood against the Migration Amendment (Designated Unauthorised Arrivals) Bill 2006 because I believed it was not in the long-term interests of this country. I've never been afraid to take a stand on justice issues, even if it risks my political existence. I love this country. That's why I'm still here: to serve the people and improve the lives of all Australians. We're a nation of diverse backgrounds, rich in stories of courage and mateship and especially a fair go for all. Through the tough times our best characteristics shine.
Our national anthem sings of unity: 'We are one and free.' But that is not what I am seeing. Things have changed. I see division and censorship tearing at the rich fabric that threads our nation together. Where I once saw free speech, I now see creeping censorship of that inalienable right. In our country, known for its free speech, censorship is creeping in. Even our own Department of Home Affairs had a hand in censoring over 4,000 social media posts, many of which turned out to be factually correct.
The controversial and misleading misinformation bill proposed by the Albanese government will silence those who dare to speak out against the government's narrative. The government's designating itself the only arbiter of truth. The Australian Human Rights Commissioner, the highly respected Lorraine Finlay, says the proposed laws have the potential to undermine democracy, erode public trust and jeopardise free speech. I've been around long enough to know that no-one stays in power forever and that one day it might be your voice that is silenced. We all stand to lose with this indefensible bill. Having no free speech in Australia means having no democracy in Australia.
So what do we do in the face of this? Just turn around and go home? No. Where once I saw unity, I now see a nation divided. The pandemic years divided the nation by health status. The directive came from the top, with state and federal governments restricting movement and the ability to work based on a person's vaccination status—all this damage to people's lives through a vaccine that doesn't even stop infection. At any other time, this would be called out for what it is: blatant discrimination against the individuals who choose to protect their own health their way. Last week we saw Queensland finally scrap these discriminatory mandates for their healthcare workers. Up to 3,000 nurses may be allowed back to work, but only after they have faced possible disciplinary action or reapplied for jobs. Meanwhile, my home state of Victoria continues with these ridiculous mandates. A person's choice to have a medical procedure—an experimental one at that—should not be pressured, coerced or manipulated. To do so is a breach of informed consent and violates the international human rights treaties to which Australia is a signatory. Shame on us! We trusted leadership to protect our human rights, and they didn't.
From the thousands of conversations I've had in the wake of the mandates, I've found that there's a simmering resentment and distrust of the government such as I've never seen before. And what about the estimated 500,000 people who were affected by vaccine injury and long COVID? What is the government's response to this? Nobody's saying anything. Can someone explain why Australia is having so many excess deaths above normal expectations? The government has not responded to my questioning. They've chosen to look the other way. So I ask: is it the pandemic response, the lockdowns, the delayed medical care or, dare I say, another issue? Who knows?
Where this nation's people once enjoyed tolerance of one another, I now see intolerance. Those holding opposing opinions are ridiculed and insulted. If I'm sceptical of the route to net zero, does that make me a science denier? If I have questions about the Voice, does that make me a racist? If I believe there are only two genders, does that make me a bigot? If I don't want to take an experimental vaccine—as Greg Hunt called them—does that make me a far-right conspiracy theorist? To all these things I say no. We must re-learn to disagree in a more respectful way.
There's a saying in my home town of Koo Wee Rup: never forget who brung you to the party. We are the servants of the people, not the other way round. Many people in this nation are hurting and looking to their elected representatives for help. While the Albanese government focuses on ways to silence and divide this nation, our people are paying the price for incompetent leadership of this great south land. I stake my claim this day for the people of Australia: to remain free and unencumbered by further authoritarian moves against them.