27 March 2014




SUBJECT: Racial Discrimination Act

GREG JENNETT: Barry O’Farrell’s comments seem to have heartened Labor’s Spokeswoman for Citizenship and Multiculturalism. Michelle Rowland is from the Western Sydney seat of Greenway. We just heard the New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell there say we must not lower our defences, bigotry must never be sanctioned intentionally or unintentionally. Do you count him then as a sceptic on these proposed changes?

MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM; SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR COMMUNICATIONS: He sounds to me as though he is quite concerned and he’s reflecting some community concerns about these proposals that the Attorney-General has put up. I think that is very correct for him to say we have no place for bigotry in our society and indeed he is reflecting the fact that New South Wales is such a diverse place. And we have no room for that. So it does sound to me like he is quite a sceptic of what the supposed underlying policy rationale is supposed to be in this round of consultation on this amendment.

JENNETT: As a Sydney MP, is it your assessment that there are particular ethnic or racial issues there that might cause him potential concern over and above other Premiers?

ROWLAND: Certainly Barry O’Farrell is the Premier of an area that includes some of the most diverse areas in all of Australia, particularly when you go to, just as an example, west and south-west Sydney, but many other areas of our community. A lot of people of Jewish origin, a lot of new migrants in Australia, we’ve had the Indian migrant intake overtake the UK as the biggest source of permanent migration. Huge change happening in New South Wales and many other parts of Australia. I think his comments in recognising that are probably forming the basis of his reservations here.

JENNETT: There are reports today and the implication is that it’s from Coalition insiders, that George Brandis could’ve gone for something far more radical than what he finally did. Is it any consolation to you that that didn’t happen?

ROWLAND: It’s interesting, but the proposal is not a consolation, because the proposal that we have on the table right now is very detrimental to harmony and an inclusive society in Australia and exactly the things that Barry O’Farrell mentioned. One wonders how far he wanted to go then if this is the end result, where we have the terms vilify and intimidate so narrowly defined, but the exception now so broadly defined, that in the words of Mark Dreyfus you could drive a truck through it.

JENNETT: We won’t explore that too much as this has been discussed earlier. Let’s look at the numbers. Do you expect these amendments to be voted on by the current Senate, that is, before July?

ROWLAND: I really don’t know. There is a consultation period until the 30th of April. How long that will then sit with the Government party room is a matter for them. So I really don’t have an insight into that.

JENNETT: But the current numbers if you just took Labor and the Greens would suggest it couldn’t get through that Senate. What about after July? Are the prospects any stronger there for Government amendments to get through?

ROWLAND: Again, we’ll have to wait and see the results of the West Australian Senate by-election to really know what’s going on. Even listening last night, I saw at least one Coalition Senator say that she had reservations about the knight’s honours system, not making it to the party room. This sounds like it was a matter discussed in Cabinet but not necessarily fulsomely in the party room. And those voices that have been raised and they seem to be increasing in number are very concerned about it. So one would think this will go through quite a rigorous process in their party room before it even makes it to the Senate.

JENNETT: Just finally, with this four-week consultation period and the parliamentary break, what does Labor do? Is it working to mobilise ethnic communities and run some sort of campaign against this?

ROWLAND: The challenge now is by the 30th of April submissions need to be made. Within that time frame we have the Easter break, we have orthodox Easter, we have a number of Jewish holidays as well, so when you take those out it’s actually not a long time. So we need to get the message out, I think everyone who is concerned about this needs to make a submission and get the message out to others to do the same.

JENNETT: Michelle Rowland, there.