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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 142

Racial Discrimination Act 1975

Mr DREYFUS (IsaacsDeputy Manager of Opposition Business) (14:54): My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to reports that all but one of the Prime Minister's Senate backbench, led by Senator Cory Bernardi, are defying the Prime Minister by sponsoring a bill which will give licence to hate speech. Is this just another case of what the member for Warringah describes as 'a government that is in office but not in power'?

Mr TURNBULL (WentworthPrime Minister) (14:54): As the honourable member will recall, in the lead-up to the 2013 election, the coalition undertook to review and reform section 18C. The matter was considered by cabinet; and some proposals for amendment were made. They were controversial; there is no question about that. Mr Abbott, my predecessor as Prime Minister, announced that the government would not proceed with them, and that was the announcement that was made in that context. Since then the government has not had—neither the government I lead nor the government that Mr Abbott, the member for Warringah, led—any plan or proposal to amend section 18C. We have other, far more important priorities to deal with—the budget repair agenda that I spoke about earlier, the industrial relations and workplace reform agenda, which I spoke about earlier. Backbenchers are entitled to seek to move private members' motions, as you know.

There is a wide range of opinions in the community about section 18C and the language in it. But I can assure you, Mr Speaker, and I will repeat what I said, that the government has no plans to amend section 18C. It is a debate that has been going on for some time as to whether the boundary on free speech, if you like, is set at the right point. There are distinguished people learned in the law—some of the member for Isaacs' colleagues at the Victorian bar, for example—who believe changes should be made and there are others, of course, that believe it should stay as it is. As far as the government is concerned, we have no plans to change 18C.