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Thursday, 27 March 2014
Page: 3453

Mr DANBY (Melbourne Ports) (09:54): The Prime Minister's Indigenous adviser, Warren Mundine, a person I am honoured to call a friend, made some very prescient observations on radio the other day and previously on Lateline about this debate on the Racial Discrimination Act, particularly on the ability of people to object to racial slurs, intimidation and vilification. He wondered out loud why the government is contemplating this legislation. He said that from the government's point of view this is a very foolish thing to do, because it is sucking the air out of their news agenda. I think he is right.

Why is this happening? It is happening because of one case. As the President of the Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, said on radio this morning, you learn in law school that one bad case makes bad law. That case is the Andrew Bolt case that took place three years ago. That case, strangely, was not appealed by Mr Bolt or the The Herald-Sun and The Weekly Times. So now we have a national furore being created on the basis of a law that was not fully tested by the person who was so aggrieved. I believe that while Bolt's views were factually wrong, the judge's interpretation could have been seen as harsh and that if The Herald-Sun and The Weekly Times and Mr Bolt had had the courage of their convictions they would have taken the case to a higher court, where it would probably have been overruled—not because we should allow such slurs against Indigenous people, but because there were exemptions already under the Racial Discrimination Act that would have allowed another judge to have made a different judgement. It is causing a public furore also because of the transition of the Institute of Public Affairs from being a venerable conservative organisation to being an organisation of ideological zealots who are pushing this issue onto the current government.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act existed for the 11 years of the Howard government. It worked very well. There were 1,650 complaints, 500 of those dealt with conciliation and most of the rest were dropped—very few went to court. If it was good enough for John Howard for all of those years, I cannot understand what is not good enough for this government. Why is it doing this? That is a very good question asked by Warren Mundine. It is a question that the Australian people will be scratching their heads about.