Senate debates

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Racial Equality

3:43 pm

Photo of Penny WrightPenny Wright (SA, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Wright today relating to proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Along with many stakeholders who have been working hard to strengthen ethnic communities and to protect people's rights in Australia, I want to see the details of the Attorney-General's proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. That is because we have certainly heard a lot about them since 2011, when the Andrew Bolt case was handed down by the Federal Court.

These changes have been on the coalition's agenda for a considerable amount of time now, at the behest of Andrew Bolt and the Institute of Public Affairs. The repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is one of their radical ideas to transform Australia. We can see that the coalition government is working systematically through that list.

Since 2011, when the Federal Court determined that Mr Bolt had breached section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which covers behaviour that offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates a person because of their race, colour, national or ethnic origin, these changes have been mooted by Senator Brandis. And, in the midst of the faux outrage on the part of Andrew Bolt and his barrackers about the court's decision, let us recall what the court actually found. They found that Mr Bolt's articles were written with inaccurate facts and not written in good faith. They found that he breached that section of the Racial Discrimination Act. There is no doubt that Mr Bolt has a very loud voice, and a significant platform from which to vociferously express his own personal views and opinions. The suggestion that there is a limitation on Mr Bolt's ability to get his message out would seem a bit laughable, as his are columns syndicated in Mr Rupert Murdoch's various News Limited newspapers, and he has his own television program. He also has some very powerful friends, as the current debate indicates.

Maybe today is an opportunity to share with those who are listening some of the stories heard from people who are coming to me and appealing to have those laws preserved—because they have personally, and often on a daily basis, experienced the mischief, the discrimination, the humiliation and the vitriol, with corrosive effects on their health and sense of wellbeing in Australia. Indeed, that is one of the only positives that has come out of this proposal, which is hanging over some of the most vulnerable people in society—that is, the way in which various groups have come together and spoken with one voice in vehement opposition to the changes to these laws. They are groups from diverse religious and ethnic backgrounds, including Australia's first peoples, and people from the Greek, Chinese, Jewish, Arab, Armenian and Korean communities, among others. They have all said very clearly that they do not want this amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act that is being proposed by Senator Brandis. They do not want to see, in Australian society, a licensing of public humiliation against people because of their race. And that is because there is so much at stake here.

We know there is clear evidence that exposing people to racist abuse causes real damage. There is evidence that behaviour like this harms not only individual victims but also society as a whole. Section 18C was introduced 19 years ago in response to a critical mass of evidence, calling for such protection against racial abuse. It was not an authoritarian whim; it was a thoughtful response to bodies of work including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the National Inquiry Into Racist Violence, and the Australian Law Reform Commission's investigation into Multiculturalism and the Law—all of which recommended that protections against racist abuse should be enhanced. Thus, we ended up with section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The Australian Greens support freedom of speech as a fundamental human right but, as with many other human rights, it needs to be balanced. It is certainly balanced in other areas of Australian society, including in protections against defamation.

The Australian Greens are hearing the voice of the community on this issue. We have a strong track record on human rights, including a commitment to freedom of expression. On the issue of affording people protection from discrimination, we will stand strong against the licensing of racial hate. We will not be party to a weakening of protections of some of the most vulnerable people in Australia, and we will not be party to the passage of the bill which is going to be put forward in the Senate by the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, and in the House of Representatives—which we are proposing should probably be characterised as the Protection of Andrew Bolt Bill.

Question agreed to.


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