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Thursday, 15 October 2015
Page: 7741


Senator SINGH (Tasmania) (10:44): I rise to speak against the amendments put forward by Senator Day in the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 to weaken our racial discrimination laws in this country. I do so because I see these amendments as anathema to the social inclusion and national unity that this country, at this point in time particularly, is so crying out to achieve. In fact, I was very pleased to join with so many faith leaders this week here in Parliament House for the National Day of Unity. Representatives from the Muslim, Sikh, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Baha'i—so many different faiths—came here to Parliament House to stand with us, leaders in our own community and members of parliament, to say: 'We stand together against hate speech. We stand together against bigotry. We stand together to celebrate the diversity and mutual respect that we engender amongst each other to foster positive relationships between all faiths and all ethnicities.' Why would anyone want to reduce and weaken that bond that we have? That is how I see an attack on our racial discrimination laws—laws that have served this country for the last 20 years very, very well, laws that provide for freedom of speech.

We have freedom of speech in this country, and it is provided for within the very piece of legislation that this senator is trying to weaken. As he would be very well aware, it is provided for in section 18D of the legislation. We have gone through this debate. We have gone through this debate tirelessly under the Abbott government. We saw very clearly that, after an immense amount of community pressure and pressure from the opposition, the Abbott government and, embarrassingly, the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott himself, had to tell the Attorney-General that his ideals in trying to reduce our racial discrimination laws in this country were a bad step and he had to withdraw them. Of course, that was welcomed. It was very much welcomed by all of the faith leaders and the community at large, but little did we know that it was going to be temporary. Little did we know that, if a senator from another party were to introduce amendments—changes which look very similar to those that were introduced by the Abbott government—the new Turnbull government would not come out and say: 'No, we dealt with that. We said that we were not going to weaken our racial discrimination laws in this country, and we will not support Senator Day's bill.' That is not what we have had from the new Turnbull government.

Everyone thought that, with a new broom at the top, it was all going to be different. Why doesn't Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister of this country, show that he is different? Why doesn't he show that his government is different and say that the coalition government in this country will not support Senator Day's weakening of our racial discrimination laws? We have had absolute silence from the Prime Minister. Instead, we have had the contributions of a number of his backbench and a number of individuals in this place, particularly, such as Senator Back's contribution just now. Acting Deputy President Bernardi, you have also made clear your support for the weakening of the racial discrimination laws. So who is to know where this government stands? You are completely divided on this—completely divided. You have some who are still standing firm on the previous government's complete rejection of the Attorney's attempt to weaken these laws, and then you have others who are very much in support of the attempt.

That is not good enough. That is not good enough for this country to go forward with. That is not good enough to tell to faith leaders, who need more than ever at this time to know that their government is standing strong and firm with them in support against hate speech. That is what our Racial Discrimination Act provides. It provides very strong and robust provisions, particularly in 18C, that give this multicultural country of ours something to feel strong and proud about. We know that all of those rallies, petitions and delegations of community leaders who came to this place meant something. Those of us on this side listened, but it seems that those in government are now willing to turn a blind eye to all of that support for our racial discrimination laws and to all of that opposition against what the coalition government was trying to do. They are completely ignoring all of those leaders—Indigenous leaders, Jewish leaders, Arab leaders—and trying to bring these awful amendments back through this place.

That is not what you will find from the Labor Party. We stand very firm with all of those faith leaders and those community leaders. We do not want to see racism and bigotry in this country. We do not want to see the likes of Frederick Tobin back preaching his anti-Holocaust rhetoric. We want to ensure that we have decent and fair laws in this country that deal with hate speech. That is what our Racial Discrimination Act has provided for a very, very long time. What on earth is the motivation behind this particular senator and behind those senators who want to weaken these laws? What is your motivation? That is what I ask you. You cannot say your motivation is to have freedom of speech in Australia, because we have freedom of speech in Australia under this particular law, and you all know it—in section 18D, we have it. Of course, all freedom of speech has to have some limits. Do you really want to live in a country where hate speech is on your doorstep, where it is okay to have the likes of Frederick Tobin go out there and preach his Holocaust-denying, awful speech? No, we do not. We do have some limits. But I can tell you: the bow is pretty long when it comes to freedom of speech in relation to race in this country and those provisions are in this law, the Racial Discrimination Act.

I think it is important to remember the reason given by the then Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, for his change of policy. It was in August last year when, in the wake of the emerging crisis in Syria and Iraq, Prime Minister Abbott admitted that the divisiveness that his government had created, the divisiveness of his government's attack on race hate protections, was a distraction from national security issues. That was the excuse he gave for abandoning the weakening of our racial hate laws. In doing so he threw the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak, and that was the end of the weakening of these laws. We now find ourselves in a very similar position. More than ever, we need unity in this country, and the episodes that have occurred in the last week or so in Victoria and in New South Wales prove that more than ever. So why would anyone come into this place right now and try to weaken the national unity that we have in this law, the social cohesion that is provided in this law? Why would anyone come in here and open the gates to hate speech at this point in time? It is beyond me in any circumstances but it is particularly beyond me at this point in time.

Labor stands very firmly against extreme hate speech, which section 18C has covered. The Australian people made very clear their opposition to the coalition government's attack on racial hate speech, so my message to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is: show that you are different from the previous Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. One way you can show that is by rejecting this amendment and standing firm with our faith leaders and our multicultural communities and ensure that this law remains as strong and robust as it has for the last 20 years.

Debate adjourned.