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Monday, 20 March 2017
Page: 1372

Racial Discrimination Act 1975


Senator WATT (Queensland) (14:41): My question is to the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis. I refer to the Racial Discrimination Act and the Attorney-General's confirmation in question time on 31 August last year that:

… an amendment to section 18C was off the table. That position has not changed.

Is this still the position of the Turnbull government?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:41): Senator Watt, there has been a great deal of public discussion, as you know, about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. That public discussion has been in the context of a broader and very useful discussion led among others, by the way, by the President of the Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, about procedural reforms to the Australian Human Rights Commission Act, a need for which was exposed in particular in the QUT students case. The government welcomes that public discussion and I have nothing to add to what I have had to say for the moment.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Watt, a supplementary question.



Senator WATT (Queensland) (14:42): It sounds like something is up! I refer to reports that the Prime Minister is preparing amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act. Has the Attorney-General convinced the Prime Minister of his argument that 'People do have a right to be bigots, you know'?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:42): Senator Watt, I am not really sure that I can add anything to my answer to your previous question. We have seen in recent weeks the President of the Human Rights Commission recommend to the government revising the complaints handling procedure of the Australian Human Rights Commission. We saw as long ago as the end of 2015 the President of the Australian Law Reform Commission, Professor Rosalind Croucher, recommend changes to the substantive provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act. We have seen—and one would have to be blind to have not been aware of it—a very vigorous debate in the community on these issues. The government is mindful of that debate. I have no further information for you at the moment.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Watt, a final supplementary question.



Senator WATT (Queensland) (14:43): Are today's reports that the government will pursue both substantive and procedural changes related to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act further confirmation that the Prime Minister is completely controlled by the extreme right in his party room?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:43): Senator Watt, grow up! Just grow up! This is a serious issue. It is an issue on which Professor Gillian Triggs and Professor Rosalind Croucher, respectively the presidents of the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Australian Law Reform Commission, have both said there is a case for change. The government listens to what serious people say. If you want to be a serious person in this debate, Senator Watt, behave like one.