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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 233


Senator DODSON (Western Australia) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to a question without notice asked by Senator Dodson today relating to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 .

As others today have noted, this is not my first speech. The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 came into effect just over 40 years ago. The legislation has been one important pillar of our success as a multicultural and diverse nation, where people of many cultures have come to this country and built our national success—both our physical and our social infrastructure.

This law was made in response to an agreed international consensus in the form of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. The convention is included in section 7 of the Racial Discrimination Act, which gives approval to the ratification of the convention, and appears as a schedule of the act.

It is important legislation. It was, I understand, our first national human rights law, and it has given each of us as Australians some sense of assurance that under the law every Australian can be treated fairly, regardless of our colour or background. It signalled a point of maturity for us as a good global citizen. This law is of special importance to those of us who, because of our colour, our culture and our language, have been subjected to racial slurs or racial violence and to discrimination when we have sought a place at a school, at a job, at the local supermarket, to rent a house or to enter a cinema.

It has helped us in our collective task of nation-building. In 1975, Prime Minister Gough Whitlam said that the Racial Discrimination Act would help to 'entrench new attitudes of tolerance and understanding in the hearts and minds of the people'. It can be said that the act has done so for the nation as a whole and for those who have sought to escape the scourges of racism and racist speech.

We now see rejuvenated attempts to repeal section 18C of this important but quite succinct act, which makes it unlawful to 'offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate' someone because of their race. But in response we have seen widespread community support for the legislation as it exists. The vast majority recognise that we should not give people the social licence to inflict racial bigotry onto others. The proposed repeal of section 18C was rightly abandoned by the Turnbull government. It puzzles me that government members here have reawakened this supposedly dead debate. The Prime Minister indicated that it was not a national priority at this stage. He should now be unequivocal in his opposition to this proposal, and get his house in order.

But the protection of legislation that prevents discrimination is a national priority for those of us who are opposed to discrimination, to violence and to hate speech in all its multiheaded forms. It shapes our nation, showing that we are committed in our society to mutual respect and to racial tolerance. We know that this act is there not just to protect all Australians from discrimination but to build and maintain our harmony as a modern, tolerant cosmopolitan community—a national community built from many nations and many cultures, with a growing sense of our common humanity.

We know, especially those of us with lived experience of racism, that racism at the end of the day is about power and hurt. My late friend David Ervine was an Irish politician and good friend who hosted me at Stormont, in Belfast. He was a militant unionist who became a champion for tolerance. In a speech he gave while visiting Australia he said, 'I can smell racism. It does not grow wild in the field. It is tended in a window box.'

It can be seen clearly in the colonial history of Western Australia that a misguided sense of moral and social superiority historically legitimated the prolonged and violent dispossession of people. But the colonial notion of racial superiority was just an ideological mask for greed. It placed a small fig leaf— (Time expired)