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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7738


Senator BACK (Western Australia) (10:28): I rise to support Senator Day and his co-sponsors' Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014. I commence with a quotation from the French philosopher Voltaire:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

The principles of the French republic, the three pillars—liberty, equality and fraternity—go to the absolute essence of what we are discussing in this chamber today. Voltaire ,1694 to 1778, a writer, historian and, of course, philosopher wrote:

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

If I can stay with the historic quote for a further moment and that of the first president of the United States of America, George Washington. I quote Washington's comment because it is relevant to our discussion in this place today. He said:

If freedom of speech is taken away, then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

Washington was acclaimed as probably the most famous and influential of the presidents of the United States, which of course he led into independence.

I have heard a lot of debate and discussion but I have not heard too many definitions. I propose now to place on the record the commonly accepted and indeed dictionary definitions of some of the words that we are debating here today. The bill proposes to remove the words 'offend' and 'insult' from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which currently makes it unlawful to 'offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group' on the basis of their 'race, colour or national or ethnic origin'. That is what we are addressing today.

I applaud Senator Day for his initiative in bringing this bill before this chamber, which surely must rest at the base and the root of Australia's democratic system. Because if we cannot debate it, if we cannot come to the conclusion as to what is free and what can be said in this country then the courts have got no basis upon which to make their statement, so I do now want to put onto the record the definitions. The first word is 'humiliate'. The definition of humiliate: to humiliate is to injure the dignity of self respect of a person or a group, to embarrass or to put them down. As I understand from Senator Day's bill, there is no intention to remove the word 'humiliate' from section 18C as amended. The second is the word 'intimidate'. It is defined as to frighten or to overawe, especially in order to subdue or influence. A further definition: to threaten. And, again, unless I am mistaken, there is no intention within Senator Day's amendment to section 18C to have any effect, to leave 'humiliate' and 'intimidate' in the amended bill.

I now want to go to the definition of the two terms that are proposed in this bill to be deleted or to be limited and they are 'offend' and 'insult'. The definition of the term 'to offend': firstly, to cause offence to or resentment in, to upset; secondly, to displease or to cause anger; thirdly, to do wrong or to transgress. And that is one of the two words that are proposed in the Day bill to be removed. The second is the term 'insult', which refers to speaking to or treating a person with scornful abuse, to make an insulting remark or an insulting action or something that is so worthless or contemptible as to be offensive.

Whilst we are on the topic, since it has been thrown around—although it is not included in the words of 18C now and not included in the intended amendment by Senator Day and his cosponsors—I will introduce the term 'bigot'. A bigot, by definition, is an obstinate believer in religion, a political theory or similar who is intolerant of others and who tries to impose his or her views on others, a person who is prejudiced. That is what the definition of a bigot is. I would venture the opinion that on many of the occasions when we are speaking in this chamber, when we are countering the views of others who have spoken before us, we certainly express a level of intolerance to the view of others. We certainly in the words that we use would, in the view of the listener or an observer, be considered to be trying to impose our views on others. That is what the term 'bigot' means.

I turn, as indeed others have, as indeed Acting Deputy President Bernardi has, to the comments of many people in this debate in terms of where they stand on freedom of speech and the words 'offend' and 'insult'. If we take the commentary of Mr David Marr, a person who, as you said, I believe, in your contribution, Acting Deputy President Bernardi, and—I will repeat—a person who would not agree with most areas or positions that we would take. He said:

…in a free and energetic society, giving offence is necessary.

'Offending' and 'insulting' are the two terms that are proposed to be deleted. Marr goes on to say 'offence and insults are the everyday reality of free discourse' in a free and open and democratic society.

I imagine even some of the young people looking down on us today would certainly in their conversation in the classroom or the playground on occasion have said things of offence to others or, indeed, may have insulted a classmate or friend. Should they, in their maturity beyond the age of 18 years, be dragged before a court and be the subject of an action under the Racial Discrimination Act? Of course they should not. In fact, as Marr said:

Hurt feelings should never attract the law as they do now under section 18C.

I wonder if the young people who are listening to what is being said today are aware that, once they reach the age of 18 years and possibly even younger, if they do hurt the feelings of another, they may in fact attract the law under section 18C.

Professor James Spigelman, a former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales and Chairman of the ABC, made this comment:

I am not aware of any international human rights instrument or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy that extends to conduct which is merely offensive.

He goes on to say:

The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended.

I was very impressed with the first speech of our Western Australian Labor Senate colleague Senator Bullock. He said:

To be tolerant of your views I do not need to pretend that you are just as right as I am but rather to accept that you have a perfect right to hold a view I believe to be wrong, even if I find your view offensive.

I look forward to robust discussions with Senator Bullock at different times on different topics in which we will be in disagreement and indeed as we have been. If he finds my words offensive or insulting, he has the perfect opportunity to retort and to come back to me in the way in which he wants to.

I will defend strongly the continuation of the words 'humiliate' and 'intimidate' to be held within 18C. They are deeply offensive to anybody. The fact that somebody tries to injure the dignity and self-respect of others, to put others down as either an individual or a group—the concept of someone trying to frighten, subdue, influence or threaten a person or a group of people—is deeply offensive in Australia. It is absolutely counter to the fundamental that created the essential Australian system of mateship. It is the absolute anathema of mateship that one would attempt to humiliate or intimidate.

Since mateship probably had its origins in the battlefields of Gallipoli and other places, you had better believe that there would have been plenty of rejoinders that somebody listening from the outside indeed may have seen to be offensive or insulting. The term 'bastard', as we know as Australians, will have many different meanings depending on the context in which it is used. Somebody from another country may think that a person is being deeply insulting or offensive to use that term when indeed they may actually be using it as a term of endearment. But of course we would never relate that term to humiliation and intimidation in the context of mateship as I speak.

In considering my contribution to the amendment proposed by Senator Day I reflected on some of the feedback I get to some of the contributions I make in this place and outside it. I have spoken at different times, for example, in terms of hormonal balance within the foetus. I have indeed made the observation that maleness is suppressed femaleness in the embryo and the foetus. I have drawn attention to you, Acting Deputy President Bernardi. I remember in one contribution making the point that, foetally and embryologically, you in fact were female before you became male. I received a lot of emails at that time which I would certainly regard as having been offensive. Indeed, I don't know if they might not have been from some members of your family! Or they may have been insulting.

I have made other comments about embryologic development in the animal species and the human species and I have incurred the wrath of people who have emailed me. I can assure you that those terms were deeply insulting to me. I am known to be a person who very strongly endorses and promotes the live export of production animals from this country. You would understand and had better believe that over time there have been and will be more communications to me, to my family and to my staff which any reasonable person would say are offensive and insulting—sometimes, of course, as you know, beyond that. Section 18C as it stands at the moment would allow me to drag such a person before the courts because they have expressed their democratic view that what I have said, in their view, is insulting or offensive.

Certainly there has been no attempt in those circumstances to intimidate. If there were, they would have to expect a different response from me. But, as a public person, as we all are, if we express our views openly and freely then we must be the subject of communication from others who would disagree with us. That person must know that they are free of the possibility of being dragged before a court.

I conclude my contribution with the words of the Attorney-General and now our leader in this place:

By making the reasonable likelihood of causing offence or insult the test of unacceptable behaviour … section 18C is a grotesque limitation on ordinary political discourse.

Surely this country was born on the principle of the freedom of political and related discourse. I commend Senator Day for his initiative in proposing this amendment bill. It is reasonable. It leaves those offensive words 'intimidation' and 'humiliation' in, and it removes the words 'offend' and 'insult', which have no place in a modern democracy