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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7731


Senator LINES (Western Australia) (09:51): I do not know how someone can stand in this place and say that they are opposed to vilification and then try to water down the Racial Discrimination Act: the two are mutually exclusive concepts. The last time an amendment to the act raised its ugly head I received many emails from concerned Australians about the watering down of the act. We saw community organisations across the country come out and speak against the watering down of the act. Many were community organisations who, unfortunately, deal with racism every day—the experts, if you like; those at community level who hear the offence and witness the pain it causes.

This is a time in Australia when tolerance should be at its highest, following the tragic and horrific shooting of Mr Curtis Cheng. There has been an outpouring of grief by thousands of Australians who did not know him but who were moved by his death to act in a kind and tolerant way. Tolerance should be at the forefront of our actions when we confront the fact that his death was carried out by a 15-year-old boy and when we are told by law enforcement agencies that children as young as 12 are being groomed by adults. Of course, we need strong law enforcement. Of course, we need vigilance and new strategies. What we do not need is an amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act which allows people to be bigots, to offend and to insult. This is exactly what the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 seeks to do. It is not about free speech; it is about offending and insulting.

This is an amendment that the Turnbull government wants—only this time it is using the backdoor, through a private senator's bill. Of course, the bill is co-sponsored by two Liberal senators—one a former minister and one a deputy whip. They are two liberals who have held and continue to hold senior positions within the Liberal Party. This is Prime Minister Turnbull pandering again to the wishes of the bigots in his own party, who want to push through these changes under the guise of a private member's bill. Make no mistake: nobody is fooled by this action.

In June of this year the act celebrated its 40th anniversary. It was introduced under the Whitlam government in 1975, but from its inception right up until now a long succession of Liberal governments have tried to water it down, and this backdoor attempt by the Turnbull government follows that legacy. It is useful to reflect once again on the words of Kep Enderby, who, when he moved the bill, said: 'This bill was a significant step in the development of policy and the promotion of human rights in Australia' and also on the words of the great Gough Whitlam when he said in relation to the bill:

There is a need to spell out in an enduring form the founding principles of our civilisation, and in particular the principle that all Australians, whatever their colour, race or creed, are equal before the law and have the same basic rights and opportunities.

This amendment, like all previous Liberal government amendments, seeks to radically change that meaning and that intention of the Racial Discrimination Act. Last year, when the Attorney-General tried to move a very similar amendment to water down the Racial Discrimination Act, we saw thousands of submissions flood in in response to government consultation that almost universally panned the Attorney-General's exposure draft for a watered down 18C. There were rallies. There were petitions. There were delegations of community leaders to this place. Australians of all backgrounds spoke out against the government's divisive proposal. Australians from many organisations who would not normally agree with each other on a number of significant matters agreed that the watering down of 18C was not in anybody's interest. They showed that their principles were based on tolerance—tolerance that they can accept one another's positions and tolerance that they can disagree. They all came out supporting the original intention of the act.

Mr Abbott—as we know, the old management—eventually abandoned the government's attack. He humiliated the Attorney-General by making him backflip on his signature policy. So now they are trying the backdoor approach. Now the Turnbull government is trying to hide what it really wants by co-sponsoring a private senator's bill. We will see Liberal senator after Liberal senator stand up and say that they do not support racist comments, they do not support bigotry—and maybe that is true—but they cannot stand in this place and make those comments and also support this bill. So there is something else going on here, because they are mutually exclusive points of view.

I do not stand for racism. I do not stand for bigotry. I am a feminist; some over there think that is a dirty word. I do not stand for the watering down of the Racial Discrimination Act, to take out the words 'insult' and 'offend' and to say that it is okay in this country to insult and offend people. Australians do not stand for that. Last year, when the Liberals tried to water down 18C, we saw a very, very strong reaction from Australians. A private senator's bill is a sneaky way to try and achieve exactly the same thing, because it does not have the currency of a bill that the government is promoting. But we all know on this side, Labor senators know, that it is the Liberal government, the Turnbull government, that is really promoting this bill. You would not see the Labor Party—the Labor senators or Labor members of parliament—co-sponsoring this bill, because, yes, we stand for free speech, but we do not stand for insults and offence. That is not what the Labor party stands for. We are proud that in 1975 Gough Whitlam had the foresight to introduce such a bill to say that Australians are inclusive, to say that we support free speech but not speech which insults and offends.

This year we saw the outrageous reaction to a dance that Adam Goodes performed on the football ground. Who would want to make all of those insults and offences that Adam Goodes received legal? Who would want to say that is okay? Let me tell you, as an Australian, I say that is not okay. I do not stand for insults and offence. I stand with Adam Goodes and other people who demonstrate their culture or their beliefs in a way that is not offensive, who should not have to stand and cop the sorts of racist comments that he has copped almost throughout his football career. You can stand here and say, 'Yes, I've been bullied. Yes, people have made racial taunts to me.' This is not okay, because those comments are painful and they leave a scar. Anyone who thinks they do not is kidding themselves.

The last time I defended this act I told the story of my granddaughter, and I think it is worth telling again. She is 11. She is Gidja. She lives in Geraldton. She went into a shop and she told me that the shopkeeper followed her and her mother around. When I asked Charlee why that happened, she responded by saying, 'Because I'm Aboriginal.' That is offensive. Who wants to make that legal? What happened to Charlee and the lesson she has learnt at the tender age of 11 she learnt many years ago.

I am often appalled when my fellow senator Nova Peris shares with me some of the emails that she receives. They are disgraceful. They use terms that went out in the 1960s—terms that I would not even repeat in this place because they are so offensive. This is because of the colour of her skin. What a disgrace! She is an Olympic hero and she puts up with that. If Nova Peris cops that, imagine what ordinary people cop on the street if they look a little different to me. It is a shame that my 11-year-old granddaughter has learnt that lesson at such a tender age—that the colour of her skin somehow makes her different to other people and causes other people to be suspicious that she might steal something from a shop. Well, I do not stand for that. I certainly do not stand for this Liberal Party amendment wrapped up in a private senator's bill.