I spoke about the murder of Jo Cox MP, in the debate in relation to a motion moved by Andrew Giles MP. I seconded the motion.
Ms BUTLER (Griffith) (12:14): I rise to second the motion and to add my condolences to the people of Britain, and also to the family of Jo Cox, the Labour MP for Batley and Spen. Jo Cox died on 16 June after being stabbed and shot while conducting what we would call a mobile office. The 52-year-old man who was later charged with her murder shouted 'Britain first'.
Jo was 41; she had two children, aged three and five. Like every death at work, her death was a tragedy. It came about two weeks before the Australian election. Everyone in this place at the time was campaigning. We were meeting constituents on street corners, like Jo Cox was when she was murdered. I felt her death very keenly, and I know that my colleagues, like the member for Lalor, who is here with us today, did as well. My guess is that each member of this place has received threats of violence, so I suspect that alongside the sadness we all felt there was a pang of fear and something like recognition.
Becoming a member of parliament is a very great privilege and a great opportunity to make change. And it is also an act of bravery that carries with it some sacrifice. We are ridiculed. We are hated by some people. We are looked upon with contempt. We are called children. We are told we are in it for the money. We are dehumanised. We are constantly spending time away from those that we love, like our kids and our partners and our families and our friends. Expectations of us are simultaneously so high as to be unachievable and so low as to be insulting.
Each person in this place could choose a much less difficult path, and it seems to be getting worse for those in public life, particularly for women. Witness the attacks on Hillary Clinton and the tacky obscenities and sledges of her opponent. As former Prime Minister Julia Gillard said in her speech at Jo Cox's memorial very recently:
"Our community would not consider it acceptable to yell violent, sexually-charged abuse at a female politician walking down the street. Why is it okay to let these voices ring so loudly in our online worlds?
These voices weaken, ridicule, humiliate and terrify. Not only do they challenge the resolve of the women who cop the abuse, but they deter other women from raising their hand to serve in public life. For all the structural barriers to women’s participation in politics, and for all the gender bias and sexism that must be addressed, so too must we challenge and defeat—"
the words that are said.
She went on to say that it was very unclear at what point those sorts of online abuses would spill over into real life, into public life and onto the street. It is true. A friend of mine is a public figure—she is a columnist; she goes on television—and she is routinely abused online. But very recently she received, at her house in her mailbox, a letter containing a package of photos of gang rapes, of genital mutilation. It is horrifying to see these things happening in public now, and so the murder of Jo Cox really reminds us of the sorts of things that people in public life face and the fact that it is an act of bravery.
So you might say: 'Why on earth would anyone do it? Why would anyone put themselves up for public life?' The answer for every single person here, I think, is because we feel obliged. We feel a sense of duty. We ask ourselves these questions: 'If I say it is too much for me and I give itup, what message will that send to other people? If I don'tdo it, who will do it? If, being able to make change, I fail to make that change am I not failing in my obligation and my duty?' I really feel that those are the reasons why Jo Cox was in parliament. You can see it through her advocacy on Syria, on pregnancy and childbirth; you can see it through the work that she did on diversity and the imperative to bring people together. You can see it from all of the things that happened in her short political career, which was far too short, that did take her away from those beautiful young children and her husband too much. And you can see it in the fact that she was doing what we should all be doing, which is talking to our constituents and listening to them. And you can see that sense of obligation, that sense of duty and that imperative to make change in the words that her husband spoke at the memorial on what was to have been her 42nd birthday. He talked about the beautiful irony thatthere was to her death. Though it was an attempt to silence her, the act of murdering her had actually brought people together, had continued her work to bring people together even after her death. It is really an honour to be able to stand up in this condolence motion to express my condolences to the British people and to Jo Cox's family. May she rest in peace.