Senate debates

Tuesday, 30 August 2016


Racial Discrimination Act 1975

6:20 pm

Photo of David LeyonhjelmDavid Leyonhjelm (NSW, Liberal Democratic Party) Share this | | Hansard source

There is a caricature for opponents of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. They are supposed to be racists who are itching to offend Muslims, Asians and Aborigines. I support the repeal of section 18C, so I have been conscripted into this caricature. The thing is: I opposed conscription in the 1970s, and I oppose conscription now. So that voters do not fall for the caricature, let me be clear: the Liberal Democrats have no objections to Muslim Australians.

I voted against every one of the draconian national security bills which gave government and law enforcement bodies increased power to harass Australians, including Muslims, without due process or scrutiny. I oppose Australia's counterproductive military involvement in the Middle East and central Asia, which has been ratcheted up without parliamentary scrutiny. I oppose restricting immigration on the basis of religion. We must properly screen individuals, not groups, based on their character, criminality and commitment to liberal democratic values—indeed, there is a strong case for making citizenship conditional on these qualities. I believe food companies should be free to purchase halal certification, as long as it is in a free market and not funded by taxpayers. And I believe Muslim women should be free to wear clothes that cover their face if they wish, although I strongly prefer see the faces of my fellow Australians because it is important for building mutual empathy. But we also all have a right to criticise such women for their obvious refusal to integrate and assimilate, but it is not a matter for the law.

To those who want to hurl insults at Muslims, let me be clear: I am not one of you; I do not share your views. That said, I believe you should be free to hurl your insults, but only so that others can then deliver withering rebuttals for all to hear and to learn from. I believe you should be free to hurl your insults so that others do not need to reconsider what they say when they want to make more considered contributions to debates on Islam. And I believe you should be free to hurl your insults because then there would be no need for the speech police, and abolishing this office would then mean we could all get a tax cut.

As I have said before, there is a caricature of opponents of section 18C. They are supposed to be racists just itching to offend Asians. The Liberal Democrats do not fit this lazy caricature. We welcome Asians and their impact on Australia. I voted for the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and I will vote for the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement. I welcome expanded skilled migration from our region. I welcome investment from China and Hong Kong in Australian agriculture, real estate and infrastructure. And I welcome cheap Chinese steel imports. Each of these serves to boost the incomes of Australian businesses and workers.

Every party other than the Liberal Democrats has opposed trade, skilled migration or investment from China through their recent actions in this place. So, when you are looking to cast someone as anti-Asian, do not take the lazy approach of singling out opponents of 18C. Look to those who supported the screening of modest foreign investment in agriculture, including the coalition and Family First. Look to Senator Lambie and One Nation. But also look to those strident defenders of 18C who just cannot stop dog whistling about the yellow peril: Labor, the Greens and Senator Xenophon.

Some people claim that my opposition to section 18C proves that I do not value Aborigines. They assert that Aborigines need 18C because they are particularly vulnerable to insults. They go on to say this assertion cannot be refuted by white people, because white people do not know the Aboriginal experience. The funny thing is this blanket assertion about the vulnerability of Aborigines is often made by white people, and plenty of Aborigines have told me that it is condescending and counterproductive codswallop. In fact, the assertion that Aborigines are particularly vulnerable to insults is insulting to many Aborigines. So the excuse for 18C is itself unlawful under section 18C. How absurd!

I have argued against claims that Aboriginal advancement will come from continued race based handouts, continued encouragement for Aborigines to remain in dysfunctional remote communities and continued symbolic gestures. We have generations of evidence proving that this is a prescription for continued disadvantage. So, whenever we hear such groupthink, I suggest we make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, because it is hard to imagine an approach that could be more insulting to Aboriginal Australia.