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Thursday, 16 February 2017
Page: 1115

Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (10:28): As outlined for Labor by the previous speaker, Senator Dodson, the Greens will not be supporting this motion. There are many, many reasons for that, but the one that was just mentioned by Senator Dodson on process was a particularly strong argument. I do not know if Senator Burston has actually noticed, but there is a joint house committee examining matters associated with the Racial Discrimination Act and the Human Rights Commission Act and it is yet to make a report on those matters. In fact, there are still public hearings to occur both here in Canberra and potentially in other places around the country. To support this bill today would be pre-empting the process that has been established by this parliament.

It is no surprise that here we are again debating matters to do with the Human Rights Commission and the Racial Discrimination Act, as if somehow they fit into the top 1,000 issues facing Australians today. It is like Groundhog Day in this place, but instead of an adorable critter like a groundhog the anti-18C campaign would be more accurately likened to some kind of mutant, feral rat that sticks its head out of its burrow on a consistent basis. Lo and behold, again in The Australian today thousands of words have appeared in regards to Islam and what happened on Q&A.

This continues the absolute torrent we have seen from The Australian about 18C over the last year or so. I want to make a couple of comments on that. The Australian, or as it may be better described, the 'Q Society Gazette', has become little more than a loss-making, race-baiting rag. I have a suggestion for The Australian: where the name of the paper appears on the front page, maybe they could put in smaller font just underneath it, 'We are not racist but…' Let's see if The Australian is prepared to take on that. I know I am a greenie, and I am playing into stereotypes here, but it breaks my heart to think about the thousands of trees that have died so that The Australian's 18C rubbish can be printed every day—column after column of middle-aged white blokes screaming about how their rights in Australia are being suppressed and trampled on. It might even be believable if those same middle-aged white blokes were not writing op-ed after op-ed that espoused their bigoted and xenophobic world view. It is worth pointing out that The Australian prints the disgusting, disgraceful eugenicist views of Gary Johns, who, remember, wants people to be sterilised before they can get the dole. Really!

The anti-18C campaign, run by the Q Society Gazette, The Australian, and by the IPA and the agents of the IPA in this place, is about nothing more than greenlighting angry white people to use the n-word in this country. The Australian Greens will not have a bar of it. When they are not kicking vulnerable minorities—The Australian—they are dodging paying their fair of tax. I want to talk about lifters and leaners. How about they ditch their dodgy accountants and their dodgy accounting schemes and actually start paying their fair share of tax so that we can look after ordinary Australian people better.

Today we have The Australian—I have not counted the words, but it is well over a page, including the biggest story on the front page—basically character assassinating Yassmin Abdel-Magied. She would no doubt be able to speak for herself far more eloquently than I can today, but it is worth pointing out that, just as we had with Duncan Storrar last year, someone who has dared to go on the ABC—Q&A in both of those cases—and express views with which The Australian disagrees has been character assassinated in their pages. I want to quote from a story in The Australian. There is the front page: it is the biggest story there. It carries over to be most of page 2. By implication, they are suggesting hypocrisy from Ms Abdel-Magied, because she has dared to claim that Islam is a feminist religion and made the point that some people on Q&A found that really hard to understand. She has also said:

I’m not going to deny, some countries run by Muslims are violent and sexist, but that’s not down to sharia. That’s down to the culture and the patriarchy and the politics of those … countries.

They have implied hypocrisy by going through a list of the countries that Ms Abdel-Magied visited and going into some graphic detail about how women are treated there. It is a straight, simple character assassination by The Australian, as they always do when someone dares raise their head above the parapet and make comments with which they disagree. It is a disgusting, race-baiting rag.

Is freedom of speech seriously under any threat in this country? Is it seriously in the top thousand issues that Australians are faced with today? No, it is not. To make that point I am going to read out some of the things that One Nation candidates and politicians have said in recent times. Mr Andy Semple, the now disendorsed candidate in Queensland, tweeted the LGBT acronym, which in common parlance stands for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender, with images of the Statue of Liberty—the capital L; a gun—capital G; beer—capital B; and tits—capital T.

Then you have Shan Ju Lin penning a Facebook post that said gays should be treated as patients. Then there was Peter Rogers, who wrote a blog post claiming that the drowning of a three-year-old refugee was faked, and also, disgracefully, claimed that the Port Arthur massacre was faked. Then there is David Archibald in Western Australia, who claimed that single mothers are too lazy to hold onto their partners. Just this week you have Michelle Myers, who said that gay people are using Nazi mind control techniques on the population. You have Chelle Dodson, who refused to eat an aeroplane meal because it was halal certified. Just this morning you have had a candidate who, according to Fairfax papers:

… once advocated killing Indonesian journalists, and attacked "poofters", Muslims and black people …

Is anybody seriously going to suggest that freedom of speech is under any kind of threat in Australia today? Unfortunately, there are people who are making that argument. It has not escaped my notice, and the notice of many other Australians, that they are almost exclusively middle-aged white guys, like me and, for that matter, like Senator Burston. It is middle-aged white guys who are leading the charge—the most privileged people in our society, somehow trying to make an argument that their democratic freedoms are being trampled, while we have heard on the Human Rights Committee horror story after horror story from peak bodies representing anyone from the Jewish community to the Muslim community, to the Indian community and to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander about the everyday racism that their members experience. The lived experience of racism in this country faced by people from minority racial or cultural groups is absolutely horrendous. And, of itself, that is a freedom of speech issue. When people are treated in a racist way, often with threats or violence, their freedom of speech is compromised because they are afraid to speak out and say what they really think without facing discrimination in their workplace, in their schools, on the streets, in their communities, in the pubs where they might have a beer. So they hold it all in. They do not exercise their right to free speech in this country because they are too bloody scared to talk. That is a problem. That is the freedom of speech problem in this country, not a bunch of privileged middle-aged white guys. It is the lived experience of multicultural Australia and minority groups in this country that is the real freedom of speech issue that we need to be debating more often in this place.

As I said, there are many, many reasons why we will not be supporting the bill before the Senate today. Senator Burston has completely and abjectly failed to make the case for change, including procedural change inside the Human Rights Commission and in regard to the act that establishes the Human Rights Commission and frames up some of the matters that pertain to the way the commission has run.

There are submissions on the public record through the human rights committee, the joint house committee that is examining these matters. Many of those submissions can be seen on the committee website. Some of those submissions have, indeed, recommended change in the way that the Human Rights Commission handles complaints, responds to complaints and deals with complaints. That is a matter that the committee will no doubt deliberate on and form a position or, perhaps, a range of positions on. But that is a matter for the committee.

What the Greens want to say about this is: we will look at those submissions, we will hear the evidence—and that has already been put before the committee in some cases; in other cases it remains to be put before the committee in public hearings, one of which is coming up later this week—and we will form a view once we have heard all the evidence. Some submitters have suggested improvements to the way the act is framed and the way the Human Rights Commission handles complaints. Others have mounted reasonable arguments that there is no case for change and no need for change. But those matters will be considered by the Greens, and we will continue to play a constructive role on that committee.

But I do want to say—and I will finish my contribution here—that this country, like other countries around the world, is experiencing a resurgence of fundamentalist right-wing politics. We are facing a resurgence of racism in this country. Even the fact that the human rights committee is examining matters around 18C actually has resulted in increased levels of fear and trepidation in some minority racial groups in this country. Just the fact that we are even having the debate has caused them to feel more fearful for themselves, more fearful for their families, more fearful for their future.

Any change in 18C, no matter how well or poorly intentioned, will inevitably have the effect of green lighting more racism in Australia. As the Greens have consistently said, we do not believe that this is the time to be making any change to 18C whatsoever. If that change was made, there is no doubt that many people in this country, including The Australian, the IPA and many senators in this place, would go out and describe the change as a great victory for freedom of speech. That, of course, would be the subtle dog-whistle green light to more racism in this country. People would feel more empowered to be racist in Australia if any change to 18C were made.

From the Greens point of view, we will keep an open mind on the process issues inside the Human Rights Commission. They ought not be inflated in any way with 18C, which, of course, is in the Racial Discrimination Act. The act has very strong freedom of speech protections, I might add, in section 18D—a matter we hear very little about from proponents of changing 18C. So we will stand strongly against racist hate speech in this country. We will stand strongly behind the protections that are delivered against racist hate speech by section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. We will keep an open mind on process matters in regards to the Human Rights Commission and any possible amendments to that act.