Earlier today during question time I had to withdraw a remark aimed at Senator Waters. I will not repeat that remark here, and I do apologise for my undue outburst. But I want to explain why I made it.
In a question, Senator Waters noted that 42 per cent of the Abbott cabinet is Catholic, including the Prime Minister himself, who once trained to be a Catholic priest. As was pointed out to Senator Waters at the time, her question was out of order because it was against a former President's ruling. Chapter 10 of Odgers states that it is not in order for a senator to refer to a senator's religion. Back in 2005, President Calvert stated his concerns about another Greens senator, Senator Kerry Nettle. He said in his ruling that:
Senator Nettle’s question included a suggestion that the decisions of the Minister for Health and Ageing were influenced by his religious views. This was undoubtedly an imputation of improper motives against a member of the House of Representatives, contrary to standing order 193(3), and should not have been made. Senators should refrain from any such imputations in the future.
In 1969 President McMullin ruled that it is out of order to refer to a senator’s religion. I think that is a very sound rule which should be adhered to by all senators.
So the Greens have form in this area. In fact, you can quite literally say they wrote the book on it.
Greens Senator Larissa Waters, in a single question, managed to work in the fact that the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, had trained at a Catholic seminary and that 42 per cent of the cabinet are Catholic. It is an impressive achievement and it should be recognised.
There are those who would think that, with the decline in sectarianism in Australia so many decades ago, the art of dog whistling on religion would be a dying one. Not so—not with the Greens around. The standard defence by those who use dog whistling is one of straight-up denial: 'What? Who, me?' It is exactly what we saw during question time. 'I was only trying to talk about the Pope's encyclical on climate change.' Sure! It would be like somebody opening up a talk about multiculturalism with the words, 'As you know, 100 per cent of the Greens parliamentarians are white.' It would be completely irrelevant but it would also be completely true.
Senator Waters' reference to the proportion of the cabinet who are Catholic was irrelevant and made in a pejorative tone, as if it were shameful to be a Catholic and even more reprehensible to train as a Catholic priest. Pointing to the religion of different cabinet ministers—
Senator Waters: "Madam Acting Deputy President Peris, on a point of order: as I said in the question, it was not intended to be disparaging; it was not said in a pejorative manner; and I ask Senator Canavan to withdraw that, as it is attributing false imputations to me which are not accurate and which are in breach of the standing orders."
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: "Senator Canavan, I remind you not to impute any motives to any other senator."
Pointing to the religion of different cabinet ministers in a question to the Senate lacks class. Of course, Senator Waters denied any implication behind her words, because she wanted to land a blow without taking a swing. It was a cowardly claim and a cowardly act. It was cowardly bigotry through the use of dog whistling.
The Greens are massive hypocrites. The Greens speak of tolerance but practise intolerance. The Greens speak of equality—
Senator Waters: "On a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President: for exactly the same standing order breach that we just referred to, about imputing improper motives—which are also inaccurate motives—I ask Senator Canavan to, firstly, desist and, secondly, to withdraw the slurs that he has just made on me and my party."
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: "Senator Canavan, I ask you to withdraw those comments, please."
Can I just ask, for clarification, exactly which comments I am being asked to withdraw?
Opposition senators interjecting—
Senator Waters: "The ones you just made."
Senator Waters: "Your last two sentences."
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: "Senator Canavan, you imputed improper motives and you know what they are. I ask you to withdraw, please."
I will withdraw, but if the senator wants to raise additional points of order through you, Madam Acting Deputy President Peris, it would be helpful to point out exactly what I said. I am criticising the statement of another senator, which should be allowed in this chamber. It is not an improper motive. I am not saying that the Greens are acting in an improper way. I am pointing out the Greens' massive hypocrisy in this area—which senators do all the time and are welcome to—and it should be pointed out in this area because the Greens are massive hypocrites. They preach tolerance all the time, like they are all sweetness and light, but they practise intolerance. They speak of equality but they actually practise discrimination. They speak of human rights all the time but then they feel free to mock people of certain religions. Australians should reject—
Senator Waters: "Madam Acting Deputy President Peris, on a point of order: Senator Canavan, I will continue to take points of order while you continue—through you, Madam Acting Deputy President—to impute improper motives to me, as if I have somehow disparaged the religious beliefs of members of your party. That was not my intention, and I will continue to say it while you continue to assert it. I ask you again to withdraw."
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: "Senator Waters, that is a debating point."
Australians should reject the Greens' divisive and resentful form of extremist politics.
As a practising Catholic I am fed up with how Catholics are portrayed by some in this chamber and some in the media. The Catholic Church is far from perfect but then it is far from evil, too. Some members of the Catholic Church have done some terrible things over time, and the Church deserves admonishment for those things. The Church itself has shown remorse and is trying, however imperfectly, to repent for the sins of some of its members.
What angers me most about the prejudice of some is their ignorance—their wilful ignorance, at times—of the good works that many Catholics do. I met my wife while volunteering at the Edmund Rice Camps when I was young. On these camps, young volunteers like my wife and me gave up their university holidays to help disadvantaged children go camping. They were full of great young people just striving to live by the example of Jesus Christ and help their fellow man. How is it, though, that an entire religion now can be denigrated for the sins of some? We should never denigrate the many for the mistakes of a few.
None of this is to suggest that I think it is improper for Senator Waters to raise the Pope's encyclical. It was quite appropriate for Senator Waters to do that. It was inappropriate for her—as the President ruled—to impute motives to Catholic cabinet ministers just because they were Catholic.
I have not had a chance to read the whole encyclical myself. I have had a quick look at it, and the central lesson that I took from it—and this is where the Pope speaks with the most authority, I think—is that the wellbeing of humankind, in particular that of the poor, has to be front and centre when we look at complex issues like climate change. Pope Francis makes the very strong point that any policy must put humanity as its central concern and that the moral course is to use human wellbeing, in particular that of the poor, for our standard. The Pope says in it that it is not for the Church to 'settle scientific questions or to replace politics', and he highlights the need for honest and open debate. He states:
For poor countries, the priorities must be to eliminate extreme poverty and to promote the social development of their people. At the same time, they need to acknowledge the scandalous level of consumption in some privileged sectors of their population and to combat corruption more effectively.
He goes on to say:
… demographic growth is fully compatible with an integral and shared development …
The most polluted places on earth are in the developing world, in countries without the benefit of industrial development and of cheap energy and electricity. So, industrialisation and fossil fuels have a place too. When we push up power prices, it is the poor who suffer the most. Also, in the 44,000 words of the encyclical, the word 'climate' appears just 16 times. The most common words are 'human' and 'God'.
Some other pressing moral issues identified by the Pope that the Greens might have missed—or, at least, hope the government will ignore—are the dangers of welfarism and the importance of the dignity of work in helping the poor. The Pope says:
Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work.
He goes on to say:
… Since everything is interrelated, concern for the protection of nature is also incompatible with the justification of abortion. How can we genuinely teach the importance of concern for other vulnerable beings, however troublesome or inconvenient they may be, if we fail to protect a human embryo, even when its presence is uncomfortable and creates difficulties?
While the encyclical did not touch directly on the definition of marriage, the Pope spoke strongly on this in January this year when he said:
The family is also threatened by growing efforts on the part of some to redefine the very institution of marriage, by relativism, by the culture of the ephemeral, by a lack of openness to life.
These are all important points that Pope Francis raises. I welcome the Greens new found interest in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and I hope Senator Waters does take the time to read the full encyclical.