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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2780

Senator GILES —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Has his attention been drawn to West Australian reports of constant verbal and physical attacks on people of non-Caucasian appearance and background? One such recent report referred to two Perth Asian families which are living in a virtual state of seige, terrorised by vandals they believe are trying to force them out of their homes. This, unfortunately, is just one in a series of most regrettable incidents. What measures are available to the Commonwealth Government to educate and otherwise persuade the community that the incitement of racial hatred will not be tolerated?

Senator GARETH EVANS —To the extent that the problem involves physical violence against persons or property of the kind reported in Perth then, of course, the ordinary processes of the criminal law are available and, I hope, would be effectively used against the perpetrators of such indefensible behaviour. As to the measures which are available to persuade the community that the incitement of racial hatred will not be tolerated, I have seen the letter to the Prime Minister from the Chairman of West Australians for Racial Equality suggesting intensive community education to combat racism and also legislation to prevent incitement to race hatred.

Senator Lewis —Why did you take the Vietnam veterans' benefits away last Thursday? Why didn't you support the Vietnam veterans? You sat down here and voted against them.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Lewis.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I appreciate that this sort of question jangles Senator Lewis's nerves. I am well aware of that. He goes to pieces whenever he hears any sort of concern expressed about racial discrimination in this country. Like the rest of his Party, Senator Lewis has no commitment whatsoever to legislative solutions to resolve this problem.

Senator Chaney —Mr Deputy President, I raise a point of order. The Minister opposite voted against an anti-racist amendment moved by the Opposition last week, in common with his colleagues. He should not misrepresent the position of the Opposition. The discrimination that occurred against Asians--

Senator GARETH EVANS —I was not even here last week.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! I ask both honourable senators to resume their seats. There is no point of order. I call Senator Evans.

Senator GARETH EVANS —I draw Senator Chaney's attention to the fact that, far from voting against anything last week, I was not even in the country. That is yet another demonstration of his capacity to get things right. Under the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975 the Human Rights Commission has, of course, the functions of developing, conducting and promoting educational programs to combat racial discrimination. That role will pass to the proposed new Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission when that body is established early in the new year.

The question of legislation to proscribe incitement to racial hatred and racial propaganda is of course a very difficult area. It is now a much more difficult area and one with which successive Attorneys-General in this country, including now Mr Lionel Bowen, have been wrestling. Such legislation has to be balanced against claims to freedom of speech. It is also the case, as has become apparent in Canada and New Zealand, that the criminal prosecution of persons who defame ethnic groups does often given them a platform for obnoxious views which would not otherwise be available. Therefore, it is a vexed and difficult question and one which I think will take us some time still to resolve, although with the usual sensitivity with which the Opposition addresses these matters, I do not expect we will have any help in resolving it from that side. However, I will ensure that the honourable senator's question and the letter to which I referred are drawn to the attention of the Attorney-General for him to give such further consideration to it as is appropriate.