The Australian Senate has united in a scathing rebuke of a far-right member who made comments in the aftermath of the New Zealand mosque shooting, blaming the incident on Muslim immigrants.
Sitting for the first time since the 15 March attack, senators from almost every party made statements condemning the actions of independent Fraser Anning, leaving him no choice but to sit and listen.
Mr Anning received international criticism for a series of tweets in the aftermath of the shooting that killed 50 people at two Christchurch mosques. The senator claimed the attack showed “the link between Muslim immigration and violence” and later physically struck a 17-year-old boy who broke an egg over his head in protest.
“The real cause of the bloodshed on New Zealand streets today is the immigration programme which allowed Muslim fanatics to migrate to New Zealand in the first place,” he said in a later statement.
The house on Wednesday debated a motion to formally censure Mr Anning for his actions, the first time such a procedure has been used in more than four years.
The motion passed by a near-unanimous vote, a rare show of bipartisanship in the Senate, with only the anti-Muslim One Nation party ordering its two senators to abstain.
Mathias Cormann, the government’s Senate leader, called Mr Anning’s comments “ugly and divisive”. “They were dangerous and unacceptable from anyone, let alone a member of this place,” he said.
Opposition Senate leader Penny Wong pointed at Mr Anning as she called him “shameful and pathetic”, describing him as “a bloke who has never been elected”. It was a reference to the fact Mr Anning only became a senator by default after another One Nation member was disqualified for holding dual citizenship. Mr Anning later quit the party.
“This motion makes it clear he doesn’t speak for us,” she said. “He doesn’t speak for the senate. He doesn’t speak for this nation. He doesn’t represent Australian values.”
Mehreen Faruqi, a Pakistan-born Greens senator, produced an online petition to the Senate with more than 1.4 million signatures calling for Mr Anning to resign, arguing he should be suspended as well as censured.
“There is no room for racism in Australia. Sadly, what Senator Anning said after the Christchurch massacre, however shocking isn’t out of character,” she told the house. “Just a week before I joined this place, he gave a speech calling for a ban on people like me coming to this country.
“It is terrifying that right-wing extremist groups have a found a mouthpiece in Federal Parliament,” Ms Faruqi said.
There was an emotional moment when the Australian Labor Party’s senator Pat Dodson, speaking in support of the censure motion, read a statement to the victims of the attack saying “rest in peace” in Arabic, and in Maori to New Zealand as a whole stating: “We are sorry for your loss.”
And Mr Anning finally walked out as Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young stood up and told him: “You are a disgrace. Don’t smile at me, don’t smile at the rest of us, people lost their lives and you think it’s a joke.”
Prior to leaving the chamber, Mr Anning had argued that the motion was an attack on free speech. He called it “an exercise in left-wing virtue signalling of the worst kind”.
One Nation party leader Pauline Hanson, who was absent, issued a statement saying that while Mr Anning’s comments were “untimely and therefore deemed highly insensitive”, the party could not endorse the motion because “he still maintains a right to his opinion”.
Senate president Scott Ryan advised members that, since a law change in 1980, suspending Mr Anning would be difficult and time-consuming because he would have the right to challenge it in court.
The censure motion, though lacking any practical consequences, acts as an expression of the Senate’s unified disapproval.
New Zealand’s prime minister Jacinda Ardern has previously called Mr Anning’s comments on the shootings “a disgrace”. On Tuesday, her deputy Winston Peters called him a “jingoistic moron”.
Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant has been charged with murder in relation to the shootings and is due to appear in court on Friday, when further charges are expected to be brought.
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