SUBJECTS: Liberal Party division over Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act



MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR SMALL BUSINESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: Yet again today we see the Government hopelessly divided. This time on the issue of watering down the protections against racist hate speech currently contained in the Racial Discrimination Act. Now it’s incredibly important to remember that these are provisions that have served Australia well for over 20 years. They were enacted for a purpose, including the outcomes of detailed government inquiry and including the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. But today the proposition that is before the Senate is one in which members of the Liberal Party are threatening to cross the floor and vote for. It is time for Malcolm Turnbull as Prime Minister, someone who loves to give long speeches, long sermons, to practice what he preaches. At a time when this country needs unity from all its leaders in our society, at a time when we have many people gathered even in this Parliament House today, working out ways to explore community resilience, to guard against extremism, at a time when we need the community to stand together in an inclusive manner it is exactly the wrong time to be looking at watering down these provisions of 18C.

But I fear that one of the reasons why Malcolm Turnbull won’t stand up on this matter is because in his heart of hearts he actually believes in the proposition on the table right now. And in his own words, as he said on The Bolt Report on the 17th of May this year: ‘…there was a very general consensus, well a broad consensus, amongst lots of interest groups and stakeholders that the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ could be removed,’ and Bolt asked him: ‘do you support that?’ Turnbull: ‘I did support that,’ Bolt: ‘that’s good.’

It is high time for this Prime Minister to make a very public stance on this matter, to bring his MPs and his Senators into line and to rule out once and for all watering down these very important protections in our legislation. It is high time that he did this and that we moved on. I invite the Liberal Party, in the spirit of bipartisanship and consensus that has come into this Parliament and into our discourse over the last few days, I invite them to join with the Labor Party and rule out voting for these very divisive amendments.

JOURNALIST: Should it really be against the law to offend and insult someone?

ROWLAND: These are civil provisions. It’s very important to note that they have been given meaning by the courts and that the vast majority of cases that are brought under these provisions actually don’t proceed to courts. They are settled in a manner outside of the court system. And I would say on this point too, we had an inquiry nearly 18 months ago by this government into this very question, one that George Brandis ran. We have never seen submissions into that. We know they were overwhelmingly against changing these provisions. We’ve never seen a report. We therefore have no evidence to show that there is a need to water down these laws. Nothing but an ideological bent from a few.

Thank you.