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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1122


Senator FAWCETT (South AustraliaDeputy Government Whip in the Senate) (11:01): Madam Deputy President, I understand you will be pulling me up in a minute or so, but I will just say that the government will not be supporting this bill. On that I do agree with Senator Singh. The fact that we have a committee that is conducting a robust investigation into the Human Rights Commission and its processes means that we should wait for that process to be complete.

On that point, I will depart from what Senator Singh had to say because I do have concerns, as we have inquired of the Human Rights Commission during the estimates process as to how they operate and about the impact on free speech in Australia. We look at the case of QUT, which has made it into the media. I thank The Australian in particular for their defence, not only of their cartoonists but for their highlighting of the plight of these three students. When you look at what they have been taken to task over, you could not call them bigots and you could not say that they were racist, and yet the full force of law and the costs associated with that have ended up landing on their doorsteps. Two of them have had to pay 'go away' money to the lady who made the complaint and her lawyer. Thankfully, we have had QCs and others who have been prepared, on a pro bono basis, to support these people so that this can actually be litigated and the public can see the impact that this has in a quite unfair manner on Australians.

The things that have come out during the estimates process that have been quite disturbing are the number of cases that have been settled or dealt with where people are not free to talk about the results, the outcome or the process. So the public has no idea of how many of these cases were payments made to make the problem go away, and in how many of these cases people have felt unable to express their points of view.

I share Senator Singh's concern that Australia should not be a place where people are belittled and put down, but I do not share her contention that 18C, as it currently stands, is actually doing a particularly good job of making Australia a place where we get that balance right. To quote the Attorney-General from a former Labor government in 2012—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT : The time for this debate has expired. Senator Fawcett, you will be in continuation.