Senator Robert Di Natale
The Greens leader Senator Robert Di Natale

Let me begin by saying at the start of this debate that it is about time we acknowledged that we are standing on stolen land, the land of the Ngunawal people. I want to pay my respects to their elders past and present. Let us remember that Australia was a multicultural and multilingual nation long before the first Europeans arrived.

We are standing here today on Harmony Day, a day where we come together to celebrate our enormous cultural diversity and the peace and prosperity that this nation is famous for. But it is today, on Harmony Day—this day of all days—that this government has decided it wants to pursue amendments to water down protections against racial discrimination and to make the expression of hate speech even easier. How is it that the Attorney-General and the Prime Minister would consider saying to people, on a day when we celebrate their contribution, ‘We want to make it easier for you to be vilified in the Australian community.’ This is a day chosen because it is the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. This is a day when the United Nations human rights chief says he wants governments to adopt legislation that expressly prohibits racial hate speech. We have the UN saying it wants countries around the world to strengthen protections against racist hate speech, and what is this government doing? It is weakening the protections we have, making it easier for racist hate speech.

This has nothing to do with freedom of speech, and it never has. Freedom of speech has never included the freedom to say racist and bigoted things that do harm to people. Watering down section 18C has nothing to do with freedom of speech. It has everything to do with freedom from consequence. It has everything to do with allowing a very small group of very privileged, largely older white folk in this place to be more racist than they might otherwise be.

If the freedom of speech warriors in this country were so concerned about freedom of speech, why wouldn’t they be arguing against the erosion of freedom of speech in this country? Why wouldn’t they be arguing against the Border Force Act or sections of the ASIO Act? What about the pieces of antiterror legislation that make it almost impossible for people to express themselves as we would expect in a liberal democracy? When the Attorney-General set up his parliamentary inquiry into freedom of speech all he was worried about was the rights of those so-called bigots, and giving them the right to say and do what they want to say and do.

Look at the section 18C parliamentary inquiry and even the Attorney-General’s own inquiry into section 18C—and I know that Senator McKim was part of that. That was a committee dominated by a majority of coalition party room members and not even they, when looking at the evidence, could conclude that there was a case for section 18C to be watered down. We have to ask ourselves: what is it that the Attorney-General wants people to say? What is it that they currently cannot say that they will be able to say if we change the definition within section 18C? They cannot provide an answer to that question. They cannot provide it.

This is a debate manufactured within a narrow section of the media, within the Institute of Public Affairs and within the back rooms of the Liberal Party and the far Right of that party. But this is not a debate that many of the thousands of people around the country who have contacted my office or those of my colleagues in the Greens want to see us entertain. They want to see us protect our multicultural community. We have heard horrific stories of the effects of racism on many of those communities right across the country. What they are saying to us very loudly and clearly is, ‘Please do not weaken 18C, particularly now that hate speech is taking a foothold right around the world, within some sections of the Australian community and indeed in this parliament.’ The Australia I believe in is one that protects multicultural Australia, one that recognises the great contribution that migrants have made and one that recognises the protections we need when it comes to hate speech. 

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (15:28):

Source Chamber Senate on 21/03/2017


Chamber Senate on 2017 Item – Citizenship Speaker: Parliament of Australian Copyright: Unedited Document used for News Reporting.