Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Questions without Notice
Racial Discrimination Act 1975
My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. I refer to the Attorney-General's decision to weaken the Racial Discrimination Act. I also refer to the comments made by the executive director of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, Dr Colin Rubenstein, that to pass the amendments as they stand would risk 'emboldening racists'. I ask the Attorney-General why he is emboldening racists?
Senator Peris, you are going to have to stop basing your questions on false premises, because we are not weakening the Racial Discrimination Act. We are strengthening the Racial Discrimination Act by focusing it on the central vice of racism—that is, racial vilification. Might I remind you, Senator Peris—I did tell you this yesterday, but you seem to have forgotten—that today there is no law of the Commonwealth of Australia that prohibits racial vilification. Not one. This is a tremendous gap at the heart of the Racial Discrimination Act. Rather, the Racial Discrimination Act uses the inappropriate mechanism of political censorship to stop people expressing opinions.
We do not think that is the way to deal with the problem of racism, Senator Peris. We think that the way to deal with the problem of racism is to identify the two great issues that characterise the worse form of racist conduct—that is, vilification, which is not currently dealt with; and intimidation, which is currently not adequately dealt with—and focus the operation of the act upon them.
I am asked about Dr Rubenstein—
I was addressing the first part of Senator Peris's question. I had finished doing that. Now I am going on to address Dr Rubenstein, which was the second part of Senator Peris's question. Dr Rubenstein is a friend of mine, as he is a friend of many on this side of the chamber. Dr Rubenstein was one of the many Australians with whom I consulted during the course of developing these reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act. I acknowledge—as others on the other side of the chamber seem to be unable to acknowledge—that there is a variety of views in the community, which is why we have released an exposure draft.
Mr President, I have a supplementary question. I refer to the comments from the President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, who said, 'It is not clear why intimidation should not include psychological and emotional damage that can be caused by racial abuse.' Why is the Attorney-General so eager to defend the rights of bigots and not those Australians who suffer psychologically and emotionally from racial abuse?
I am concerned to defend the rights of everyone. I am concerned to defend the rights of everyone, because every citizen of this land, whether you like their views or not, has human rights, Senator Peris. Do you dispute that everyone in this land has human rights, everyone enjoys fundamental freedoms—
Honourable senators interjecting—
I will take Senator Conroy's interjection about the right not to be vilified. In the government's view there is a right not to be vilified, but that right is not recognised in the Racial Discrimination Act, now. It was not recognised when the Labor government before last inserted these provisions into the Racial Discrimination Act in 1995 but that right, Senator Conroy, of which you speak—the right not to be vilified—will be recognised by these reforms.
What we are concerned with is inserting into the Racial Discrimination Act an explicit prohibition of hate speech by, for the first time, prohibiting racial vilification and defining racial vilification as 'conduct, including words, which incite hatred'. Senator Peris, unless words have lost their meaning, 'to prohibit conduct that incites racial hatred' is a prohibition on hate speech. But we choose to attack what you, Senator Peris, by your question, seem to acknowledge is at the heart of racism, rather than—as the previous Labor government's amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act did—try to close down community discussion and delegitimise those with different points of view.