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Wednesday, 13 September 2017
Page: 7087

Senator BERNARDI (South Australia) (10:23): From the outset I have to express my concern that this bill has been presented here and is expected to pass by tomorrow whilst we are already in the midst of a debate about redefining marriage. I think it shows a shameful lack of planning from the government's perspective. They've known that this postal vote and survey has been forthcoming for a period of time, yet we're expected to make substantive changes to matters of law and disclosure within 24 hours to prevent a bunch of people complaining about having their feelings hurt—and that's on both sides of the debate. I think it's wrong, because this is essentially 18C on steroids, on a temporary course of steroids to protect people from being upset.

There are elements of this bill which I've managed to read this morning. There are elements of this bill which are wise and prudent, such as the disclosure regime, because this is a political campaign, make no mistake about that. The authorisation is appropriate. I also believe that the demanding of equal rights, particularly through the media outlets, is a wise and prudent thing because, as I said, this is a political campaign, and to dress it up as anything else would be foolish.

In essence, this is the government redefining the states' and territories' discrimination bills. It is trying to override them for the purposes of this campaign and, importantly, it sets some new precedents that are most unwise. We know that 18C has been widely discredited and has been misused and abused in recent times. It is reasonable to presume that we will face the same sorts of misuse and abuse during this postal vote survey process, because people will be complaining and trying to use lawfare as a mechanism in which to silence their opponents. The spurious claims are going to be: 'My feelings were hurt,' 'I feel vilified,' 'I feel alienated,' or 'I'm upset.' And alarmingly, from my understanding, the person who will sit in initial judgement about the merits or worthiness of that case will be the Attorney-General. They will be the person who can interfere and direct things to the Federal Court or appeal against them in the Federal Court.

I don't mean this disrespectfully to the Attorney, but do we really want anyone who is a partisan cheerleader for a side in a campaign to be sitting or rendering any form of judgement about a complaint of the conduct of one side or the other? If that is what this bill does—and I look forward to hearing what the minister has to say—I think it is wholly inappropriate. It's not a reflection on Senator Brandis; it's a reflection on any minister, of any political persuasion or stripe, being able to interfere in a judicial process. We understand this is only a temporary action, but one of the things it hasn't done is include a provision to say, 'The spurious assessments under state and territory laws for antidiscrimination or bullying or the hurt-feelings test haven't been temporarily suspended in favour of this.' This is designed to deal with the postal survey vote, but it will not address the misuse and abuse of state and territory laws.

I would make the point that Archbishop Porteous in Tasmania has already been hauled before a tribunal—merely for upholding and trying to teach and instruct students in a Catholic school about the Catholic position on marriage, which is the legally endorsed position of the land. It is the law of the land and finds itself, by some rabid green activist, hauled before a tribunal. That is the shape of things to come and this bill extends it even further. It doesn't stop that from happening. It extends it even further. That is a legitimate grievance for people who are concerned about freedom of speech in this country, who are concerned about the encroaching offence mentality whereby everyone has to be protected from being upset by something that someone else says. It is a growing trend. It is a growing precedent.

We have seen, without these laws, this bill being enacted. We have seen public disclosure, public discourse. We have seen the media actually do its job in recent times. When there's been fake news out there about allegedly homophobic posters being misrepresented by people on Twitter, it has been picked up by the media—misrepresented entirely by outlets like Channel 10—and found to be completely false. The media did its job by exposing how false that was. When a doctor put a position on same-sex marriage and had a campaign of hate waged against her, calling for her to be deregistered, we ultimately saw common sense come to the fore. Even the activist group GetUp! eventually pulled the petition from one of their satellite sites because they recognised how stupid it was. This is practical, realistic action having the intended consequence. The court of public opinion will render its verdict. It doesn't need 'Judge George' in the chamber of outrage to determine whether things are offensive or not. If you have a minister interfering with a legal action—and that's what this bill does—it is entirely inappropriate.

So, whilst I think some of the measures in this bill are reasonable, the haste with which it has been brought on and the precedent that it sets are very dangerous for our country. If people are upset by the fact that changing the definition of marriage has consequences, they will highlight some of those consequences that are being lived out around the world. Some from the other side of the debate to myself will say, 'It's got nothing to do with the consequences; there are no consequences,' while others, like Tim Wilson, will say, 'Yes, there are significant consequences, and safeguards need to be brought in.' How are we going to protect from that? Who is telling the truth in that? Will Senator Brandis sit as judge and jury on whether those things are hate speech or misrepresentations? Where do we end up with this? There's always going to be someone who will complain that their feelings have been hurt. We need to teach people respect and we need to make sure that people are resilient—and that starts in this chamber. That these are intensely personal decisions is one thing, but there is a precedent here and there is a principle at stake here. If we are trying to protect everyone in this country from having their feelings hurt by someone else, we are on the path to I don't know where, but I can tell you it won't be a very healthy path to take.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator BERNARDI: I am pleased to hear the mirth from those on the other side who have never seen a law or regulation which they don't want imposed and, might I say, which their activist supporters are very happy to abuse. I'm yet to hear one of them denounce the Fairfax journalist who wants to hate rape everyone who disagrees with him—I haven't heard him say that; it is just revolting. They are the ones who are pretending they are the persecuted. That is a problem. This is a matter of principle: if you are legislating to protect everyone from having hurt feelings, you will never stop legislating because there will always be someone complaining about being upset by someone else. I'm not one of them. I regret that my vote won't make any difference in this, and for that reason alone I do not support this bill.