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Wednesday, 16 November 1994
Page: 3491


Mr ABBOTT (5.12 p.m.) —When I was at university I met a white South African exchange student. She seemed like a most charming, pleasant and delightful person until she started a part-time job where she had to make tea and coffee and do the photocopying. One day she came home in great disgust and said, `This is work for blacks.' On cross-examination, she said that the Bible said that blacks should be forever hewers of wood and drawers of water. This was the first time in my life that I had ever come across sheer racism; the view that people were lesser human beings simply on account of their skin colour. The experience was all the more ugly because in nearly every other respect this young lady seemed so much like an ordinary Australian.

  The fact that someone such as me, from a classic middle-class Australian household, already out of my teens, had to wait that long to find real racism and, when I found it, to have found it in an overseas person says something about our society. It says that we are not a racist society. Sure, we are not perfect. We were not perfect in 1788. We are not perfect today. But our society on balance is one of the freest, the fairest and the most tolerant on earth.

  When Governor Phillip came to these shores, his instructions from his political masters were to live in amity with the native peoples. Back in the 1830s, there was the Myall Creek massacre. It was a terrible event, where white men were hanged for the murder of Aborigines. The Chinese had a rotten deal on the goldfields, but that did not stop Thomas Bakhap from becoming a senator in one of the early federation parliaments—and a senator, I might add, for the Nationalist Party, one of the forerunners of the party I represent.

  Italians were present in our country from the very beginning. There was an Italian with Captain Cook, and an Italian on the First Fleet. There was an Italian at the Eureka Stockade. An Italian bishop of Armidale was once stabbed and shot in the middle of saying mass. He picked himself up as if nothing had happened and went right on with the mass, which strikes me as a very Australian attitude.

  The point is that in this great country of ours people from the four corners of the earth have been able to come and make a life for themselves. The differences between us are always dissolving into something called `Australianness', which is always in the process of being created and recreated. We do not have `your Australia' and `my Australia'; we simply have `our Australia'. I have one paternal grandfather from England and a maternal grandfather from Holland, yet I do not believe I should say that I am a Dutch Australian or an Anglo-Australian, simply an Australian. I do not normally agree with the Prime Minister (Mr Keating), but one instance where the Prime Minister is right is in his dislike of hyphens.

  I am very proud to be standing here today and defending the record of my country, our country. I am also pleased to be defending the record of the Liberal Party, my party. The Liberal Party was the first party to put into the federal parliament an Aboriginal, ex-Senator Neville Bonner. The Liberal Party was the first party to put into an Australian parliament—the New South Wales parliament—a Chinese born person, Helen Sham-Ho. The Liberal Party ended White Australia at a time when the Labor Party was led by Arthur Calwell, who said, as we remember, `Two wongs don't make a white.' It was the Liberal Party that began large-scale Asian immigration to this country with the Vietnamese boat people at a time when the Labor Party was led by Gough Whitlam, who described those self-same boat people as `effing yellow Balts'.

  The Liberal Party has a proud record of opposition to racism in all its forms, just as Australia has a proud record of opposition to racism in all its forms. The basic problem with this legislation is that no-one can really demonstrate any clear demand for it. There is nothing which should be illegal which is not currently illegal. Assaults motivated by racism are currently illegal. Graffiti motivated by racism is currently illegal. Arson motivated by racism is currently illegal.

  The most outrageous and reprehensible example of racism in our country is the one perpetrated by Jack Van Tonga in Western Australia. He is serving a very long gaol sentence, as he should be. If we look at the New South Wales legislation—legislation which is unobjectionable—we see that there have been something like 400 complaints in the last five years. In that time there have only been three attempts to bring a prosecution under that legislation. So either the legislation does not make a huge difference or there is not a huge problem.

   So many reputable people in our society believe that this legislation is unnecessary. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody thinks it is unnecessary. The Australian Law Reform Commission thinks it is unnecessary. Joe Wakim, a prominent member of the Arabic community, said that it was unnecessary. Phillip Adams, a great small `L' liberal and supporter of the Labor Party over the years, believes that it is unnecessary. He said, `Wrong country, wrong time, wrong law.' Even ex-Senator John Button has said that it is unnecessary. The member for Kalgoorlie (Mr Campbell) says that it is unnecessary. The Assistant Minister for Industrial Relations (Mr Johns) says that it is unnecessary. The member for Eden-Monaro (Mr Snow) says that it is unnecessary.

  The majority is not always right. Certainly in this instance very possibly all those people are wrong, because we in the coalition have seen that the law can be a moral teacher. Sometimes we do need laws to take a moral position, and just possibly this is one of those incidents. But, whatever the position on the principle of racial vilification, the fact is that this is a deeply and fundamentally flawed bill for four reasons.

  The first reason is that, unlike the New South Wales legislation, which says that to be a criminal offence the incitement must be to an act of violence against persons or property, this law makes mere incitement a criminal offence. There does not need to be any incitement to violence against persons or property. In other words, as Phillip Adams has said, this law turns mere words into a criminal offence punishable by one year's imprisonment. You can go to gaol for mere words.

  The second reason this bill is gravely inadequate is that, unlike the New South Wales legislation where a civil offence is created only if a person incites hatred—and that is very strong—under this bill all that is necessary to create a civil offence is for someone to feel offended, insulted or humiliated. In other words, all that is necessary to create a civil offence under this bill is for someone to have hurt feelings.

  In this parliament just last week the Attorney-General (Mr Lavarch) admitted that, if someone stood up and called the honourable member for La Trobe (Mr Charles) a septic tank, that could very possibly cause a civil action and a judgment could be entered against that person. That is not to say that people should run around calling American persons or people of American origin in this country septic tanks, but it is to say that the best argument against bad taste is not to make it illegal. What we need to combat racism is argument, not censorship; we need exposure, not suppression.

  The third argument against the bill as currently drafted is that it creates an offence of vicarious liability. The employer of someone guilty under this bill of inciting racial hatred can be liable just because the person who has actually done the deed did it in the course of his or her employment. In other words, when Ron Casey attacked Chinese restaurants on 2KY a few years back, Michael Easson and Graham Richardson, as directors of 2KY, would have been liable for the same offence of racial vilification. Frankly, that is just not fair.

  The fourth reason this bill is grossly inadequate is that racism does not have to be the dominant motivation. It simply has to be a substantial motivation. As we know, what constitutes a substantial motivation is entirely in the eye of the beholder. If, for argument's sake, a World War II veteran protesting against a Japanese development somewhere in our country should make the throw-away line, `Well, you know, the Japs were just as bad during the war and they haven't got any better in all these years,' that relatively harmless throw-away line could result in a civil action for racial vilification.

  In other words, under this bill we have the prospect of people facing heavy fines or even going to gaol simply for making stupid statements. A person could be fined many thousands of dollars by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission—a non-court—for something that someone else has done but did not really mean. What has this country come to if people can be fined on so flimsy a basis?

  The real problem with this legislation is the government's double standards. It had 11 public meetings around the country to gauge the real need for this legislation. It has been reported in the press that at only one of those public meetings was there genuine agreement that the legislation was necessary. Then there are the Prime Minister's double standards. Quite frankly, if the Prime Minister had said of other nationalities what he said about the British, he would very well have been hauled before some of the various tribunals in this country. There is then the difficulty of making martyrs of these people. None of us had heard of David Irving until this government denied him a visa. All of a sudden, he became a martyr to free speech. Let us not make racists martyrs to free speech.

  The fifth reason that this bill is inadequate is that it is more likely to hit the people whom it is supposed to protect. For instance, in the state of New South Wales, some ethnic communities have used the New South Wales vilification legislation as a weapon against other ethnic communities. An article in the Australian of last week reads:

. . . Father Frank Brennan's fear that federal racial hatred laws might be used as a weapon to inflame inter-ethnic rivalries is well founded. Several complaints have been lodged with the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board alleging vilification of Greeks by Macedonians. One involved an article in a newspaper which they say accused the Greek community of terrorist acts. Another was a petition to Parliament said to accuse Greeks of killing and robbing Jews and migrating on the spoils to Australia.

  The Macedonian community has lodged its own complaints against Greeks as a "defensive measure", says spokesman Victor Bivell. "People became quite annoyed at the complaints lodged against them and (decided) those lodging the complaints were more worthy of being the defendant than them."

In other words, racial vilification legislation can actually make things worse.

  We in Australia are insulting our migrant people by saying that they are not capable of tolerating the same robust standards of debate as the rest of us can tolerate. That is what this bill says. This bill says that we have to put our migrant communities in glasshouses, in humidicribs. We cannot touch them because they are not capable of acting in the same way that ordinary Australians act. That is a slander on our migrants and it is something that this government should be ashamed of.

  Let me conclude by quoting from ex-Senator Peter Walsh, who said:

  Some people say the Government knows its actions—

that is, in launching this legislation—

are indefensible, but proceeds with this type of legislation hoping it will split the Opposition . . . I would like to believe the Labor Party has not sunk that low. But. . . ?

I say shame on the Labor Party that it is using the migrant communities in this country as political pawns.