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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 215

Racial Discrimination Act 1975


Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (14:00): My question is to Senator Brandis, the Attorney-General. I refer to the Racial Discrimination Act and to the Attorney-General's statement last year that an amended section 18C was off the table and that that position had 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) (14:01): Yes.

The PRESIDENT: Senator Dodson, a supplementary question.



Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (14:01): I note that all government Senate backbenchers bar one support a proposal to amend section 18. Will the Attorney-General rule out any changes to section 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act in this term of the parliament or is this another example of the coalition backbench determining government policy?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:01): My answer to your primary question could hardly have been more unambiguous. Senator Dodson, we respect the right of members of our party to express their views. We express the right, in particular, of members of our backbench to express their views. Senator Bernardi and several members of the crossbench have put down a notice of motion expressing a view about section 18C. They are perfectly entitled to express that view, but I can tell you, Senator Dodson, that the position of the government is as I have outlined.


Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (14:02): I have a further supplementary question. I refer to the Attorney-General's statement that 'people do have a right to be bigots'. Given the Attorney-General's view, did he consider signing up to support Senator Bernardi's move to amend section 18C?


Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandAttorney-General, Vice-President of the Executive Council and Leader of the Government in the Senate) (14:03): Senator Dodson, when are people on your side of the chamber going to wake up to the fact that, in a liberal democracy, people have a right to express whatever views they like on social and political issues—whatever views they like. If you look at the rich variety of views that have come to us with the new Senate crossbench, that is the best manifestation you will see, Senator Dodson, of the Australian people asserting that they like to see represented in this parliament a rich and diverse variety of views, from Senator Lee Rhiannon to Senator Pauline Hanson and all points in between. That is what a liberal democracy is about, Senator Dodson—people having the right to express views that other people might find unpalatable, affronting or shocking. That is the way a liberal democracy works. (Time expired)