Tuesday, 18 October 2016
Racial Discrimination Act 1975
Early last year, on 7 January, we watched our television sets and were horrified at the massacre by Islamic terrorists of cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo. We thought: how could it be that people could be so offended and insulted about a mere cartoon that they would take such drastic action? But that was not the only instance of cartoonists being attacked around the world in recent years.
The Syrian cartoonist, Ali Farzat, had his hands broken by Assad-supporting militia after he drew a cartoon showing the Syrian leader, Assad, fleeing with a briefcase, running to a car with the engine running and being driven away by Gaddafi. There was also the female cartoonist, Atena Farghadani, who spent 18 months in prison in Iran because she drew cartoons on the subject of birth control which criticised members of the Iranian government. There is also the Malaysian cartoonist, known as Zunar, who was arrested earlier this year and is facing 43 years in jail because he drew cartoons criticising the government and the waste of public funds.
We think to ourselves: how could it be that someone holding coloured pencils or textas could be seen as a threat that needs government intervention? Yet, this is happening in our country today. We have had the Australian Human Rights Commission out soliciting for complaints against a cartoonist in Bill Leak. We have the Australian Human Rights Commission actually going after him. As the editorial in The Australian today said:
It is this process, as much as any intended outcome, that looms as a punishment in such cases and that goes a long way to stifling free speech. The penalty for raising unpopular, unpalatable or controversial ideas or opinions can be the imposition of such a government-funded, burdensome, legally sanctioned, time-consuming and infuriating process.
Opposition members interjecting—
I hear members opposite interjecting, and I would ask them: do you want to see cartoonists shut down? You may want to shut debate down in this country. I say it is a disgrace and it is an outrage that a cartoonist in this country can be pursued by a government entity. I say that is a disgrace. Today we have the Australian Human Rights Commission operating something you would expect in a George Orwell novel. The most important human right that we can have is the right of free speech. Yet we have an organisation, under the banner of human rights, going after the cartoonists of this nation. I put to you, Deputy Speaker, that there could be a way of moving ahead.
I know that the opposition have locked themselves into a position that they cannot amend 18C. As much as we could debate it, we know that if we tried to in this House it would be blocked in the Senate. I would like to offer another solution. Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act says:
Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith …
My proposition is to amend 18D to remove the words 'done reasonably' and 'in good faith'. That would make any artistic work free from 18D. It would enable a cartoonist to go about their work, to criticise the government and to bring up political issues and be free of the sanctions of 18C. I would hope that the opposition could agree with this. I would hope that they could work with us in the coalition, because I do not believe that they believe that cartoonists should be censored for their political opinion.