darren.chester.mp@aph.gov.au 1300 131 785
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DEMOCRATIC SYSTEMS OF GOVERNMENT

January 10, 2011

The tragic shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona will inevitably reignite the gun debate in the United States and force a rethink of security for all elected Members.

While the facts leading up to the shooting are still largely unknown, the alleged gunman used a Glock semi-automatic pistol to fire up to 20 rounds in just 15 seconds, killing six people at the scene.

The crowd was gathered at a ‘Congress on your Corner’ event which had been organised by Ms Giffords to meet with constituents. It is something that many politicians in democratic nations like the US and Australia are doing every day of the week because it allows local residents to have direct access to their local MPs.

During 2010, I conducted a ‘Talk to me Tour’ where I advertised my presence at shopping centres, street corners and community events across Gippsland because I believe it is a good way to meet people in their own community.

Rather than always requiring people to travel to my offices in Sale or Traralgon, it is a convenient way for people to raise issues and discuss ideas for the future. Without exception, the events have been successful and any discussions have been constructive and informative.

That’s not to say there haven’t been occasions when people have disagreed with my position or my party’s policies, but the meetings have always been respectful and never escalated to anything remotely approaching violence.

Australia is very fortunate in that regard. While the US has a long and tragic history of political assassinations, we have been largely untouched by political violence but we must never become complacent.

We need to make sure that public debates are tolerant and respectful and don’t become personal or inflammatory. Of course it is important that strongly held views are able to be aired publicly but much of the political debate in the US has become personal, vitriolic and divisive.

Extreme views, often expressed with extreme language, can lead to extreme actions by unstable people. The weekend’s shooting is a warning to us all that we must always protect our democracy and guard against such intolerance in Australia.

As one US Republican said on the weekend: “An attack on one who serves is an attack on all who serve”. If we value our open and democratic system of government, and if we want continued access to our elected Members, we must show more respect for each other and recognise that there is more that unites us than divides us in this great nation.

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