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Wednesday, 26 March 2014
Page: 2150


Senator DASTYARI (New South Wales) (15:39): I rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Brandis to questions without notice. I rise to ask the question that everyone is asking, and that is: why? Why now, days from a by-election that could alter the government's capacity to pass legislation? Why now, weeks away from a budget in which the government has been sincerely promising since September to make deep and lasting cuts to our social services, to put a blunt axe to foreign aid, to slice the budgets of our public broadcasters and to undermine the assistance that we extend to pensioners, single parents and low-income earners? Why does the senator think now is the time for Australians to be considering the degree of bloviating racism permissible in our public discourse? Why is this the pressing issue of our time? Why, when we have tried so hard to earn a reputation as a country that welcomes people of all races, does the first law officer of the Crown think that, among all the issues requiring urgent attention, the right to offend, to insult and to humiliate someone is worth rising up to defend? Why has the Attorney-General, with heavy heart and after careful consideration, determined that—of all the pressing matters, all the legislation weighing so heavily on the minister's mind and all the freedoms to protect and cherish—the freedom to humiliate someone based on the colour of their skin warrants this?

I would like to assert that, quite frankly, the reason this matter has come to the floor of this chamber is not the careful consideration of the Attorney-General, it is not that it meets the strategic objectives of the government's legislative agenda and it is not that the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form is so outrageously unjust. Of course not. The fact that this is a matter of urgency is simply due to the astonishing conceit, breathtaking arrogance and unbridled contempt that was so evident in Senator Brandis's response in this chamber on Monday. It is not just what the senator from Queensland said but the way he said it that has elevated this issue to a matter of pressing public concern. Senator Brandis's response to Senator Peris's question was delivered in a manner that made no effort to disguise his contempt and disdain for either the question or the questioner. Ladies and gentlemen, we were all here to witness it, but for the Hansard record I will repeat the minister's words:

People do have a right to be bigots, you know.

For the Hansard record, I want to be clear and to use the two other words Senator Brandis proposes to omit from the act: his response was delivered in a manner that was both offensive and insulting. Whether it was a sound bite or a headline, Senator Brandis's response was reprehensible, cringeworthy and ultimately untenable. He left himself with no choice but to try to undo the self-inflicted damage.

So I ask again: why is the right to humiliate someone because of their race a matter of such urgency? The senator can continue to pretend that this is an issue solely about free speech, but it is not. It is more than that. It goes to the heart of this country. It goes to the heart of a multicultural nation. Frankly, the responses that have been given by Senator Brandis are both offensive and insulting in themselves. The unmasked contempt in his response to Senator Peris was simply astonishing. Senator Brandis is not simply defending the rights of the likes of Andrew Bolt. No, he has gone beyond that now. Senator Brandis, through his contempt, has been forced to use this issue to defend himself.