Senator Sam Dastyari: It is credit for being consistent! I rise today on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination—Harmony Day. The idea that today is the day that we are going to talk about watering down section 18C—watering down race hate laws in this country—is appalling. It is embarrassing. You could not script the joke that this place has become.

The irony is that the same people who keep going on about this matter of freedom of speech in this theoretical sense are the same people who argue against the right to freedom to marry the person that you love. The hypocrisy there is unbelievable! Where this debate is really headed to is this: as Senator McCarthy said, what is it that is so insulting, that is so humiliating or that is so offensive that people feel the current laws do not allow them to say those things, and feel like they are being held back by the laws as they are written currently?

When we have the challenges of youth unemployment and the challenges facing the economy, what do we have from the government? What we have from the government is this theoretical debate within their own wings which is more about protecting the Prime Minister’s own job than it is about the jobs of tens of thousands of millions of Australians who are under threat in a changing economy.

Let’s be honest: it is not going to impact the people in this chamber. We are all privileged to be here. But it is the message that you send to society; it is the message that gets sent from the top. It is when you have an Attorney-General who stands up in this chamber and talks about people having the right to be a bigot—the exact words of the Attorney-General, who is sitting here. It is the message that sends to our society.

It is about the 10-year-old school girl who might look a bit different or have a bit of a funny name getting picked on in the schoolyard, and it is about the parents who have to deal with the different children and their kids and what happens in the playground. At a practical level, they were never going to be able to take their cases to the Human Rights Commission—that is not what it is about. It is about the message that we send as a society and the message that we send as a community. Frankly, it is elitism for people who have never faced that type of discrimination and who have never faced that type of language to stand up and profess how difficult it must be for others. What is incredible is when you have groups like the Lebanese Muslim Association and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry—the leaders of the Jewish community—coming together, including many Asian community leaders right across the board and ethnic communities across this country, saying: ‘Hang on. What has made our country so strong and so successful has been the tolerance and the openness of our society.’ Part of that is the message that comes right from the top from the highest levels of government. When you have a government that has spent more time—more air time, more parliament time, more Senate time and more of the focus of the past nine months since the last election—trying to sort out the internal mess over this issue of 18C rather than the real issues that are affecting Australian households and Australian families, what message is that sending about values and priorities? I say to this government: ‘You have responsibility for your actions. You have responsibility for your words.’ The message that is consistently being sent by this government and this Attorney-General that it is okay to be a bigot is not the right message that we should be sending to future Australian leaders.

Chamber Senate on 21/03/2017Item QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS – Racial Discrimination Act 1975 Speaker : Dastyari, Sen Sam / Parliment of Australia Transcript used for News Reporting