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