I rise today to speak to the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 that has been tabled in this parliament and that we have spent the last few days debating. It strikes me that this piece of legislation is an awful waste of time for this chamber, seeing as we know that the government does not have support to get this legislation through and we know that it is purely an exercise to appease the right-wing rump on the Prime Minister’s back benches. We know that this bill is causing a lot of concern, anxiety and worry to people right across this country.
The Racial Discrimination Act is a law that is meant to protect people. It is meant to ensure that members of our community feel safe, by protecting them from racial vilification, from being humiliated because of who they are, where they were born, their family background and who they are as a human being. It is meant to protect people from feeling lesser than others. It strikes me, listening to the debate in this place over the last few days, that this bill has been put forward not to make people feel protected or safe in our communities but to somehow protect the people who want to spew hatred. The debate has been absolutely backwards. It has all been about the right for people to behave in ways that are pretty nasty and to belittle others. Somehow giving rights to the racists is more important than protecting a piece of legislation that is designed to ensure that every person in our community can feel safe—safe in who they are and safe to catch a bus without thinking that, just because they happen to have a Greek, Italian, Chinese, Malaysian, Fijian or Muslim family background, they may be vilified in public.
I think it is a really sad day for this parliament that we are going to be sitting late into the night because there are some people in this place—some people on this Prime Minister’s government benches—who desperately want to take away people’s right to feel safe and secure in their own communities. It is, sadly, an indictment of this parliament that we are allowing hours and hours of debating time to give rights to a bunch of racists, to people so they can be meaner and nastier—to say, ‘That is okay. That is the type of society that people want to live in.’ Well, it is not.
Australia has such a rich history of embracing multiculturalism, and we have done it very, very well. When you travel to other parts of the world, one of things that really stick out when you tell people that you are from Australia is what a successful multicultural country we are seen as. Rather than debating a piece of legislation that appeases the trolls, we should be finding ways to strengthen and embrace the richness of our multicultural diversity. Why on earth are we spending hours debating what rights racists and bigots should have, instead of what we can be doing to support, and show empathy and compassion for, those who are already feeling pretty under fire in our communities right now?
Let us be totally honest about what has dominated this debate to date. It is about a bunch of people who want to vilify, in particular, Muslims—and we know that because we heard Senator Roberts, only two days ago, say some of the most disgusting and awful things about people just because they happen to be of Muslim faith. He is a man who has particular privilege. He is in the Senate; he gets to stand up here and say the awful things he wants to say, and no-one can do anything about it. That is what privilege looks like. But with privilege comes responsibility. We have a responsibility as leaders in this chamber and in this parliament to stand up for people who do not have a voice—to ensure that somebody who is being vilified or feels under fire in our community does not become alienated just because of who they are, where they were born or who their parents are, or whether they wear a headscarf or not. The anti-Muslim crusade that has been spewed by One Nation, from that corner of the chamber, over the last week has been revolting. The truth is that they can say anything they want because they have parliamentary privilege.
We are seeing hours and entire days of this chamber dominated by a bill that is entitled ‘Human Rights Legislation Amendment’ when it really should be ‘trolls amendment bill’. This is about appeasing a bunch of privileged, nasty racists and giving them more protections, and weakening the protections of people who genuinely, and worryingly, need more protection.
I have met a lot of young Muslim women in my time as a senator in this place—16- and 17-year-old Hazara girls from Adelaide, or university students who have come to Australia with their families because their dads and their mums believe their daughters have the right to a good education and want their daughters to get a good education. They want their daughters to be able to succeed at university. They move their families to Australia so that their girls can be the best they can be and do what it is they want to do. What I talk to these young women in my home state and in other places around the country, their stories of how they feel, living in our communities, are horrifying. They cannot catch a bus without being concerned that someone is going to abuse them because they are wearing a headscarf, or walk down the street without somebody in a car yelling at them. They get home to find abuse on their Facebook page.
The people who behave like that do not need any more protection. They do not need any more rights. We should be finding ways to embrace diversity and look after those people who are already under fire, who are already feeling vilified and isolated. The trolls have been well represented in this place over the last couple of days, and it has not been a very pleasant thing to have to deal with in this chamber.
Senator Hanson yesterday challenged people to explain why she is referred to as a racist. She is upset that people call her a racist. You know what? If you say racist things, people are going to call you out for it. If you do not want to be accused of being a racist, don’t say racist things. If you do not want people calling you out for it, keep your mouth shut. If you do not have anything nice to say, don’t say anything. This is not about the thought police; this is about basic humanity and decency.
Senator Hanson said she did not believe that she was a racist. Well, when she said, ‘I believe we are in danger of being swamped by Asians,’ and, ‘They have their own culture and religion, form ghettos and do not assimilate,’ in her maiden speech in 1996, that sounded pretty racist to me. Of course, only last year she said:
… we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims, who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own.
The theme continued. Only this month she said:
… we have a disease, we vaccinate ourselves against it …
… Islam is a disease; we need to vaccinate ourselves against that.
This is pure hate coming from the mouth of one of our own senators sitting here in this place, someone who should be speaking up for decency and humanity, and all we get is the opposite.
In 2006, Senator Hanson said:
We’re bringing in people from South Africa at the moment. There’s a huge amount coming into Australia, who have diseases; they’ve got AIDS …
… They are of no benefit to this country whatsoever; they’ll never be able to work.
… And what my main concern is, is the diseases that they’re bringing in and yet no one is saying or doing anything about it.
Pauline Hanson is a racist. All you need to do is listen to her own words. But it is not people like her who need more protection; it is the people that she wants to spew hate on. This bill has been debated in this place in such a way that it is the rights of people to be racist and nasty versus the rights of others in the community to be safe. There is a lot of talk about the rights of racists and, apparently, the need for them to have more protection; not much talk about how we work to unify our country. Laws are made to protect people, not to protect the perpetrators. Australia is better than this—much, much better than this. That is why I am thankful that, despite the waste of time on this nasty, pathetic, small-minded piece of legislation today, it will be rejected because, deep in their hearts, most members in this chamber understand that Australians do not accept this.
Australians would prefer that we were debating things that really matter, such as the unemployment rate. We have record high youth unemployment at the moment. Where is the debate on that? We have growing inequality in this country. Where is our genuine discussion about that? I do not think there is any Australian—I do not know anyone—who works all day, picks up their kids after school, gets home, cooks the dinner, sits down and says: ‘Oh, you should’ve seen what happened to me today. I just couldn’t be a racist. What is this country coming to?’ No-one in their right mind who believes in this country being the best it can be thinks that we need to weaken our laws. No-one believes that except the people who want to continue to get away with spreading hatred and stirring hatred for their own political gain.
One of the worst things about this piece of legislation is just how bitterly disappointing the Prime Minister has been in all of this. The Prime Minister has put this piece of legislation up purely for internal politics. He was prepared to give a space where we had Senator Roberts stand up and vilify whole swags of the Australian Muslim community. He gave Senator Roberts—as a middle-aged white guy—a platform to stand here and say all of these awful things under the privilege of the parliament. The Prime Minister allowed that to happen, all because he is worried about his own internal political fight in his own party. He is bitterly disappointing on this.
This bill never should have been brought to this parliament. The fact that this is a piece of government legislation that we are debating in government time says so much about the character of the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull: weak, under siege and spineless. The leader of our nation is meant to be somebody who unites people, who talks about what makes us a great country, but instead he has provided an entire week of debate where we have seen members of our Australian community denigrated and vilified in our chambers of parliament. And our Prime Minister has sat by and said, ‘Oh, this is what I want my last week of this sitting period to be dominated by.’ He is weak, he is spineless and this is not a human rights amendment bill; this is Malcolm Turnbull’s appeasement to the trolls bill. That is what is in this chamber today. That is what has to be voted down tonight.
I do not want to hear over and over again when we get to committee stage that we have to have more rights for people like Senator Hanson and Senator Roberts to stand in this place underprivileged, kick members of other cultural groups and communities just because they do not like them and then have the gall to say that somebody might dare call their senators and their party a bunch of racists. If you don’t want to be accused of being a racist, don’t do it.
Chamber Senate on 30/03/2017 Item BILLS – Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker :Hanson-Young, Sen Sarah