SPEECH: MP's disrespectful behaviour

Today Mark spoke about standards of appropriate behaviour of Members of Parliament in their dealings with each other and with the community, and why Parliament should become White Ribbon workplace accredited. 

I rise today to make some comments about appropriate behaviour of members of parliament in their dealings with each other and with the community. Over the last few days members will have become aware of an incident last week in the federal parliament involving my colleague Senator Sarah Hanson-Young and the Liberal Democratic senator from New South Wales, Senator David Leyonhjelm.

I do not need to go through all the words that were used by Senator Leyonhjelm and admitted by him because they are familiar to members, and I also do not need to go through the details of his pattern of behaviour, including repeating his sexist and offensive comments in subsequent media interviews. Aside from a few online trolls, Senator Leyonhjelm's words and actions have been universally condemned by members on all sides of politics, including those who do not often defend the Greens.

The reason for that is because this is not a party political issue, nor is it a partisan issue, it is about us as members of parliament collectively reflecting on standards of behaviour and also about our society more generally. That is why the issue has attracted so much interest in the media and around the water cooler.

In an opinion piece in today's Advertiser Senator Sarah Hanson-Young explains why it is that she is calling out this sexist and misogynist behaviour. I just want to refer to part of her opinion piece that states:

'The truth is some men use sexual comments to undermine a woman's confidence and credibility, and it happens more often than people like to admit.

Senator Leyonhjelm has crossed the line. His comments and behaviour towards me are offensive and unfit for a person who wishes to sit in our national Parliament. He has brought the Parliament into disrepute. And that is why I have taken him on, called him out and called in the lawyers.

I am standing up, because not everyone working behind the bar, or working on the factory floor, or working as a flight attendant gets the same opportunity to hit back and draw a line.

It's because I have that opportunity that I also have the responsibility to say something.

Enough is enough.

Senator Leyonhjelm's attack on me is an attack on all women. It is an attack on the type of decency the majority of men and women in this country wish to see represented in our Parliament and our community. It is 2018, it's time we rid ourselves of the idea that if a man loses an argument then he gets to call a woman promiscuous or ask how many boyfriends she's had.

We are kidding ourselves if we think the problem of sexism in political life will go away when Senator Leyonhjelm finally does.

It won't go away until we call it out and rule it out, once and for all. That's what I'm trying to do.'

Senator Hanson-Young also says in the article:

'No man, whether in politics or elsewhere, has a right to treat women like this, just because they are struggling to win a debate. This is not a matter of free speech; this is a matter of decency and respect. No man—no person—has a right to harass women in this way. Not in our streets, not in our workplaces and not in our homes.'

Back in November I made a matter of interest speech in relation to White Ribbon Day. I suggested at that time that the South Australian parliament should follow the lead of the Victorian parliament and seek accreditation as a White Ribbon accredited workplace. We already have a large number of White Ribbon Ambassadors amongst the men in the South Australian parliament but I think that we should take it to the next level and deal with the issue of women's safety and respect for women as an institution as well as a workplace.

In coming weeks I will be getting in touch with fellow White Ribbon Ambassadors and other members of state parliament to see if we cannot get the ball rolling because I think the incident in the federal parliament last week that has come to a head in the media and, as I say, around the water cooler, is a wake-up call that we should not rest on whatever laurels we have, or we think we have in this place. We need to make sure that institutionally we address respect for women and White Ribbon workplace accreditation seems to me a very good place to start.