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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 235

Senator PRATT (Western Australia) (15:16): I also rise to take note of answers given by Senator Brandis. It is incredibly important and quite reasonable that those of us on this side of the chamber should be seeking reassurance from the government that they have no intention of amending the Racial Discrimination Act. I find it quite extraordinary that all but one of the Liberal-National coalition backbenchers in this place have in fact signed up to support Senator Bernardi's private member's bill. This is an extraordinary act to be taking place that goes completely against the government's stated agenda.

Indeed, the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, appears to continue to change his mind on this issue. We know that in early 2015, before he became Prime Minister, he said that he was not opposed to changes that would water down protections in 18C. Indeed, the Prime Minister said he was comfortable with the amendments and did not think they would cause any harm. It was only when he became leader that he ruled out making any changes.

So, yes, I am pleased that Senator Brandis was able to give such an unequivocal 'no' this afternoon, given that so many of the others on his side of the chamber are not of this view. So many of those on whom you rely to govern, be they in your own party or others you look to to pass legislation in this place, are also of this view. I look forward to Senator Brandis saying, 'No, no, no', every time this question comes up, because, given the level of activity and momentum around this question that is gathering from those on the other side, we will need to keep seeking those reassurances.

I think there is a real question before this place as to whether we can indeed trust the Prime Minister or Senator Brandis on this issue. It is clear from events of recent days that there is no cohesion in the coalition on this issue. When we see the entire backbench—almost, bar one—signing up to radical changes to 18C, it is clear that the Prime Minister has no control over his own government. So how are the people of our nation supposed to trust a government that cannot even agree internally on fundamental questions of protecting the minorities in our own community?

Much like the Prime Minister, I am concerned that Senator Brandis himself has had contradictory views on this matter. His views, which have been stated loud and clear in the past, are that he believes people do have a right to be bigots. Make no mistake: we on this side of the chamber will keep this issue on the table and keep holding the government to account. We know that there are those of you on that side of chamber who want to create rights for bigots in this country who think it is reasonable to expose Australians to racist and insulting acts. This, in my view, is an extraordinary thing. It seems pretty clear to me that those on the other side would not ever have been exposed to such racist attacks, because they do not have the same diversity on their side of the chamber.

Today in this place, even though the coalition has had their agenda of wanting to see 18C amended rejected many times by the Australian people and even though Tony Abbott also recognised the folly of amending 18C, we continue to see this issue bubble away on the other side. On that basis it is critical that this side of the chamber keeps holding them to account. We do not want to see amendments to 18C, and we will keep asking those questions in this place. (Time expired)