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From the sublime to the shamefully ridiculous – the Australian Senate on Vikki Riley and West Papua

Vikki Anne Riley

One week ago Vikki Riley lay on a Hospital bed fighting for life after a terrible accident.

She passed away a few hours later.

I wrote a brief piece on her tragic end here.

On Wednesday afternoon last Democratic Labor Party Senator for Victoria John Madigan and South Australian Independent Senator Nick Xenophon proposed the following Motion to the Australian Senate:

That the Senate—

(a) expresses its condolence at the death of Ms Vikki Riley who passed away on 10 September 2012 and extends this condolence particularly to her partner and son, as well as family, friends and those she campaigned tirelessly for;

(b) notes her advocacy on behalf of refugees and the people of West Papua and East Timor; and

(c) acknowledges her work with refugees and the people of West Papua and East Timor.

So far so good. It looked like we were headed for one of those sublime and all-too-rare moments in a democracy when a citizen that worked long, hard and far from any limelight for the voiceless and unrecognised is given her due credit.

The Senate at its best.

Senator Madigan made the following short statement in support of the Motion:

Senator MADIGAN: Vikki Riley was a tireless campaigner for those in most need.

She campaigned for refugees and oppressed people of other nations.

Vikki was a woman of many talents. She worked as a journalist for the ABC Victoria and the Kabul Press. She was an artist and used her love of painting to organise art workshops to help asylum seekers as they waited for their cases to be processed.

Only last month, she organised a successful detainee art exhibition at the Northern Territory Supreme Court. She continued to assist refugees after they were released from detention, helping them to find accommodation and jobs.

Vikki was adopted by Aboriginal parents in Kallista, Victoria. Her adopted parents retained her surname after the adoption.

Her partner, Jimmy Hatton, said this situation made her unique. She loved her partner and her son deeply, but she spent enormous time away from her loved ones to help those most in need.

But Senator Madigan’s condolence Motion fell to the floor under a torrent of “Noes” from the Government and Opposition benches.

Why? Well it seems that the mention of two words – “West Papua” – was so offensive that neither the Government of the Opposition could not tolerate them being recorded in the Hansard.

It is not recorded in the Hansard but over at “Don’t Say These Words” they reckon that Northern Territory Country Liberal Party Senator Nigel Scullion, also Deputy Leader of the National Party:

” … walked over to Senator Madigan and said that the Liberal-National Coalition would vote in favour of the condolence motion if the words ‘West Papua’ were removed.”

Northern Territory Labor Senator Trish Crossin led the charge against the Motion:

Senator CROSSIN: I want to place on the record that Vikki Riley is a constituent of mine in the Northern Territory. It is true that she worked tirelessly to assist people seeking refugee status in our country and most recently, of course, with the Hazaras at the Darwin Airport Lodge. I place on record my deepest sympathies to her partner and to her son.

I understand the government will not be supporting this motion because of her involvement with West Papua, in that it is in conflict with our foreign policy. I want to be absolutely clear that I place on record my support for her family and my recognition of her work for refugees at this very sad time.

Greens Senator Richard Di Natale was understandably outraged:

Senator DI NATALE: I am absolutely staggered that we are going to vote down a condolence motion for a great Australian who has campaigned tirelessly on a number of issues as well as the rights of refugees, somebody who has contributed to the artistic community and who has worked on East Timorese issues—something that Australians should all be proud of.

Yet, on the basis of her advocacy for the people of West Papua, who are currently being slaughtered, we are going to vote down a condolence motion.

Where is the courage to stand up and say: ‘Well done. You deserve our respect.‘ It is appalling.

Have we become China, that we cannot celebrate a great Australian citizen who has worked so hard on so many issues and deserves the respect of this parliament?

I am absolutely appalled.

As he may well be.

The Motion went to a vote and was lost, with 37 Noes and 11 Ayes. Both NT Senators, Labor’s Trish Crossin and the Country Liberal Party’s Nigel Scullion, left the chamber and did not vote on the Motion.

The Senate at its worst.

It is trite to recall that Paul Keating called the Senate a house of “unrepresentative swill”.  When you get moments like this I reckon Keating was spot on.

I can’t say much more. Like Richard Di Natale I am appalled.

Maybe you have more and better – if so feel free to share your thoughts here.

———————-

A funeral mass for Vikki will be celebrated at St Paul’s Catholic Church, Nightcliff at 2.30pm tomorrow, Monday 17 September 2012.

For further details contact Darwin Funeral Services on 08 8945 2222.

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  • 1
    David F
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:48 am | Permalink

    Thanks for another thoughtful article Bob.
    It is somehow poetic and symbolic of Vikki’s impact to see the matter of a simple message of condolence handled so badly in our parliament. How could they contain her!

    For those interested the Darwin Asylum Seekers Support and Advocacy Network (DASSAN) website has a memorial page where friends can leave letters of condolence and support. Here: http://dassan.weebly.com/in-memory-of-vikki-riley.html

  • 2
    Bob Gosford
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    And this from recently retired NT MLA Marion Scrymgour:

    I agree how gutless are our Senators…

    What a pathetic bunch – leave the chamber and not vote !!

    For goodness sake not as if they are Ministers and can’t cross the floor or anything like that.

    I can’t swear here Bob but I will do the FFS – what is a person who fights for justice for others can’t unite a parliament for the selfless work of a good woman – makes my blood boil.

  • 3
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:16 pm | Permalink

    Yes well the majority in the senate did vote to trade and traffic humans – in the national interest of course.

    Gillard claims that protests in Sydney are not the Australian way, this shows that cruel violence in the fucking Australian way.

    Thank you Bob, I was not aware of this vote.

  • 4
    shepherdmarilyn
    Posted September 16, 2012 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

    I note that on the same day they voted down a motion to set in stone safety of lives at sea laws.

    Could have something to do with they don’t want to rescue refugees I guess.

  • 5
    izatso?
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    this sad official downgrading of Vikki Anne Riley and the memory of her work and ambitions for people without a voice is effective only if we allow it …… when Indonesia reads what is written in The Australian every day, do they take that for the official stance ? or what ? we are up against much when our govt has to negotiate with PNG on one hand, Indonesia on the other. again we are divided on important issues by partisan and outside agendas. we should all be really aware of the depth and breadth of outragious plans designed into the Trans Pacific Partnership being formulated. for Vikki Anne’s memory’s sake, please look at this insidious ”trade deal” ……. Vale, Vikki Anne Riley

  • 6
    Moving to Paraguay
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for letting us know about this. I hope one day the motion does eventually get passed, along with a peaceful resolution to West Papua.

  • 7
    Nici
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Even in death, Vikki Riley is causing a ruckus and showing up our leaders for the hypocrites they are. Good for you Vikki.

    Next Sunday, September 23, there will be a memorial ”service” for Vikki Riley in Melbourne. Upstairs at the Tote Hotel from 4pm until 6pm. Corner of Wellington and Johnston streets in Collingwood.

  • 8
    Peter Wesley-smith
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

    If our relationship with Indonesia prevents politicians making a simple, honest gesture of condolence for a great Australian who dedicated her life to activism which is entirely legal and totally commendable, that relationship must surely be reconsidered. In any event it is surely absurd to say that a mention of Papua in Parliament would distress the Indonesian government. Is this East Timor redux?

  • 9
    Daemon
    Posted September 17, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

    What a said country we are. We have citizens who inspire us by the simple fact of their being citizens, and then we have the pond algae, who, year after year time after time without learning anything, we vote back into positions which see them floating to the top of what is essentially a cesspit.

    35 years I have voted labor (non-capitalisation is quite deliberate), and at the next election I am faced with an enormous challenge. I can’t vote for the Conservatives led by captain no and that mincing little tosser Christopher Pyne, because they simply don’t deserve my vote, and the morons to the left led by that idiot Ranga, who aren’t much better than the other bottom dwelling scum suckers.

    Whilst I will vote for the Greens, I do it with a heavy heart simply because there aren’t enough of them and not enough of the moronic electorate are interested in doing anything about our environment.

    But when I find someone talk about the work of this woman, essentially in our names I am proud of my citizenship but appalled by the country, and by our “leaders”. Truthfully, in any other world they wouldn’t even be fed. They are oxygen thieves to the last person.

    Vale Vikki Riley. You fought the good fight on our behalf, with no hope of support from our maggot politicians, none of whom are fit to wipe the mud of West Papua from your shoes. Go in peace, knowing that irrespective of the views of our elected morons, we will remember you and the work you have done. At the end of the day, our view is so much more important than those of the elected maggotry.

  • 10
    mattsui
    Posted September 18, 2012 at 11:29 am | Permalink

    If any politician of any colour attempted to veto a eulogy for, for example, an Aussie digger killed while prosecuting a futile war on terror. That person would be pilloried by all.
    Yet the Senate refuses to acknowledge a true humanitarian because, it seems, the Government and Opposition are ashamed of their own position in relation to West Papua.
    It really looks bad. How are the print and television media reporting it? (honestly, I am overseas and have limited access to Aussie media. Has any one, even the ABC, touched it. Has there been outrage on talk radio. Please let me know.)
    Matt D.

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