I rise to speak on the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017. Weakening section 18C was debated for a long time before reform was introduced into this parliament, but I still do not believe that the case has been made for reform. Section 18C functions well as it is. It strikes the right balance between freedom of speech and a legal incentive to protect victims of verbal or written abuse. Section 18C cannot be read in isolation; it needs to be read alongside section 18D, which has the exemptions to section 18C and protects freedom of speech. Section 18D says:

Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

(a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or

(b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or

(c) in making or publishing:

(i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or

(ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.

So it is clear that, if you have good and appropriate intentions, your right to freedom of speech is protected under section 18D.

But why should this area be regulated by law? The debate has clearly shown that one person’s opinion is another person’s hate speech. This debate has shown that in a world that is made up of a variety of people with different experiences, backgrounds, make up and different levels of resilience, we need a benchmark to let Australians know what is and is not appropriate. Section 18C does not restrict freedom of speech; it is about providing a benchmark for human decency.

While I believe it is important for parliament to undertake moments of self-reflection, to examine the culture it is creating, this debate is less self-reflection and more a political football for all parties involved. I am sympathetic to the pressures Prime Minister Turnbull has to deal with within his party, but the Liberal Party’s issues of disunity should not be played out on the Senate floor at the expense of legislation that impacts the day-to-day lives of everyday Australians, small to medium businesses, veterans, pensioners, families and students.

The legislation that impacts on these groups, the majority of Australians, is what must be given priority in the Senate chamber. If the changes to the pension asset test were given the same amount of airtime as section 18C, the same amount of consideration within the Liberal Party and the same amount of opposition by Labor, perhaps hundreds of thousands of pensioners would not have had their fortnightly payments cut this year. If the freeze to the family tax benefit last week had been given the same amount of airtime, the same amount of consideration within the Liberal Party and the same amount of opposition by Labor as section 18C, perhaps hundreds of thousands of families would not lose almost $2 billion from their payments.

We have a budget coming up—our economy is in dire straits, according to the Liberal-National party—and instead of governing you are kicking around issues that are of no value for families and pensioners, who no longer know how they are going to put food on the table. The Liberal government is not running the country. The Liberal government, once again, through its own self-interest, is just wasting time.

Source: Chamber Senate on 30/03/2017 Item BILLS – Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017 – Second Reading Speaker :Lambie, Sen Jacqui