Motion: Ms. Jo Cox MP

Mr GARDNER ( Morialta ) ( 17:58 ): Again, as earlier, I am very sad to be rising on a motion such as this. I certainly echo the comments just made by the Minister for Multicultural Affairs, and I will come back to those in a moment. Today, we are as a house expressing our deep sorrow at the senseless death of Jo Cox MP and expressing our condolences to her family and constituency and recognising her service. Indeed, the second part of the motion is very important: 

Expresses its sorrow that parliamentarians and others dedicated to public service around the world, who are committed to progressing ideas, can be subject to violence and hate. 

I did not know Jo Cox, and I first became aware of her service after her cruel murder, but what she stood for was a set of values that she put forcefully, coherently and articulately to her community, and they entrusted her in turn with their confidence to represent them in the Westminster parliament. When she was murdered, it was not just a cruel attack on her. It is not just her family's loss, significant as that loss is, but it is an attack on the free expression of the political will and interests of all those people who voted for her, who put their confidence in her to represent them in the parliament. It is an act of terrorism when something like that happens, and it is a most heinous crime indeed. 

I noticed that today Jo Cox's husband, Brendan, spoke publicly about his loss and said that she had 'very strong political views, and I believe she was killed because of those views'. He said that his wife was very worried that the language was 'coarsening', that people were being driven to take more extreme positions and that, if I can paraphrase, the polarisation of the political debate had a role in her death. That is deeply troubling. 

What the minister said that I thoroughly agreed with was that in Australia, and I think to perhaps to a lesser extent, but certainly to an extent in England, we are very proud of the accessibility of our politicians and the fact that it is an expectation of all of us that we will have to doorknock, that we will have to hold the street corner meetings, that we will be available to those constituents who want to come in and see us when they have a grievance to express. Even if that grievance is personally directed at us, I would suggest that we are some of the most accessible politicians in the world, and the English system is also more accessible than most. 

I know that this is something that most of us in this chamber are a part of, and we are all proud of, and our community expects no less. It is very important that in the years to come they continue to expect no less and that we continue to offer them no less. When New South Wales Labor MP John Newman was murdered in 1994, the Australian people continued to expect that openness from their politicians, and the Australian community has continued to have that expectation. 

However, when a murder like this happens, when an assassination or an act of terrorism like this happens, it is a reminder to us all that we need to redouble our efforts in supporting free speech. It gives us pause to think that when we have coarsening of behaviour, as clearly has been attributed to her death by her husband, we must give thought to the fact that politicians are human beings and that we act in a role as representatives of our communities. That is a role and that is a job, but in doing so we try to be the personification and the expression of their interests. 

I hope that her death will have some meaning in some positive way. It is very hard to see how that could be. I hope that it is not just a precursor to a restriction on the freedom of expression and the freedom of people in England to have confidence in their system. I know that is not what she would have wanted, but the cruel atrocity that has been visited upon her family and her community by this murderer is despicable. We hope that justice can be done, but we know that her husband and her family will grieve for the rest of their lives. It is therefore appropriate that this house expresses its condolences to that family and to that community and that it recognises her service and her passion.