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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 237


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (15:26): I also rise to take note of answers given by Senator Brandis to Senator Dodson's questions relating to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In doing so, I have to say I am completely perplexed. Yesterday was the opening of parliament, and the best that the Liberal backbench could run around and do was to get enough signatures on a motion by Senator Bernardi, to ensure that they could introduce legislation to amend our Racial Discrimination Act and, in doing so, water down the protections provided to ethnic communities across Australia.

Now, how on earth are they representing their constituency? This is a multicultural country. Every part of our community has people from different ethnic backgrounds living amongst us. It makes us such a diverse and strong society that we are so proud of living in. And yet, including my own Tasmanian senators—the Liberal senators Senator Bushby, Senator Duniam, Senator Abetz—were all part of leading that charge of signing on to that motion, rather than of course standing up to the issues and interests important to the people of Tasmania. They were completely ignoring the people of Tasmania and putting their extremist views within the Liberal Party and ahead of their own constituents.

I asked Senator Bushby and I asked Senator Abetz and I asked Senator Duniam: 'What is it that you want to say to those ethnic communities in your electorate in Tasmania that you currently cannot say under the current Racial Discrimination Act?' Answer me that question, because I cannot understand where you are coming from if it is not from the basis of racism and of bigotry. You have questions to answer if you are going to sign your name onto a motion to water down race-hate protections.

Quite rightly, Senator Brandis abandoned the government's attempts to water down or change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in 2014, and for good reason. We remember at the time—and I will remind Senator Brandis of the response to the changes the government wanted to make from a number of ethnic communities. For example, Kirstie Parker the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, said:

We are horrified to consider the kind of Australia that could grow out of what is now being proposed.

We know intimately the impact that racist abuse has on our peoples. It undermines our sense of personal security and safety, can disenfranchise us even further from the rest of society, and literally makes us sick.

That is just one response from the time in which the government tried to water down the protections provided in this particular piece of law.

As Senator Dodson said, we should not give people the social licence to show bigotry to others. That is exactly what a few backbenchers within the Liberal Party are trying to do in bringing forward this motion. I also ask the Prime Minister: what are you doing? Who is leading this country? Is it led by you, or is it led by the backbench of the Liberal Party? Is it led by the extreme right-wing backbench of the Liberal Party? Why will he not rein in Cory Bernardi? Why will he not rein in the senators who have come to sign this motion and who are getting away with the open rebellion that they are displaying within the Liberal Party? There is division going on within the Liberal Party. It seems to me—and I think it seems to many in the public—that the coalition backbench are determining government policy instead of the leadership or the executive of the government. I think that is something that the Australian people should really question.

I have never understood why it is that so many people in the Liberal Party think it so important to be able to insult and offend other Australians on the basis of their race and their ethnicity. Why is it okay, and why are you so fixated on wanting to offend and insult other people on the basis of their race? Is it something that you have ever experienced, because I have the feeling you do not know what you are talking about. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.