Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (10:02): If Senator Lines is interested, and I am sure she is not, I am offended and insulted by her comment that all Liberals are bigots and racists. Does that mean that I should sue Senator Lines in a court of law for her view—inaccurate though it might be—of what members of the Liberal Party are? That was an appalling speech, I have to say, from Senator Lines. She is talking about free speech but she just runs out the mantra of the Labor Party that is dictated to her by the union movement, which represents no more than 17 per cent of all Australians. The Labor Party do not have free speech here or anywhere because if they cross the party line, as a number of government senators do regularly, and may well do in relation to this bill, they are expelled from the Labor Party. How is that for free speech, which Senator Lines so loudly claims she is in favour of?
I want to commence my contribution by congratulating Senator Day on bringing forward a bill which I thought my party was going to bring forward. It is something that we flagged prior to the last election as being an important issue that we would address following the election. The people of Australia still voted for us in large majorities right across the nation. Clearly, our indication to the Australian public that we supported this approach or this policy was not something that caused people to vote against us. I would assume, from the majority that we got, that most people supported all of our policies, which included that.
I am pleased that Senator Day had the courage to bring forward this bill. As a result of that, and I heard Senator Day speaking yesterday, he has been vilified by members of the Labor Party simply for doing what parliamentarians are supposed to do—that is, bringing forward legislation that they believe the people they represent support. And yet Senator Day's thanks for doing that was the sort of vilification we got from Labor senators yesterday. So I congratulate Senator Day on having the courage. I suspect he knew that he would be subjected to abuse and vile language. I can only guess at the number of horrendously vile emails that Senator Day would have received.
Senator Lines was suggesting that people get vile, hateful email. Gee whiz! I get them all the time. Should I be suing Senator Ludlam and his nasty little band of people called GetUp! for the emails they orchestrate to send me? Perhaps I do not have Senator Ludlam's great knowledge of Twitter. Perhaps I did not have Senator Ludlam's or Labor Party senators' advantage or privilege of attending expensive private schools and going full time to university and perhaps occasionally I get things wrong. That then leads Senator Ludlam and his nasty little band of GetUp! people to fill my email with what you could call hate mail—only I do not like to use that term. It is just insults, which says more about the people who are not only sending them but organising people to send them.
Australia has always been a very egalitarian and a very laid-back country. In fact, with the coming of modern Australia, one would think—and genealogists would perhaps give a better explanation of this—that a lot of the psyche, and a lot of the way we are as Australians, comes from the fact that we were established as a penal colony. The people who made our country, who pioneered our country—the modern Australia—had been subjected to transportation from European countries. Part of our psyche is that we are laid-back, we can roll with the punches, we can laugh at ourselves, we can deal with issues and we do not need governments to legislate to tell us when we can be offended and insulted.
Senator Day's amendment bill is very carefully and, I think, wisely drawn to remove the words 'offend' and 'insult' but to leave the act so that it would read:
(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
The law as it would stand, should this bill be adopted, would still make it illegal to humiliate and intimidate anyone by making racist comments. I think that is fair, and I think most parliamentarians, indeed, most Australians would probably agree with that.
As it now stands if you offend or insult someone, which is a very subjective test, you can be subjected to quite substantial criminal penalties. Although it is not always based on race, if offending and insulting becomes a criminal act in Australia, we have lost one of those very valuable icons that define the Australian people. We are that laid-back group, we are that group that accepts everybody into the country. We are a group that has been made up, over a long period of time, of people from all nationalities, races, different colours and ethnic origins. That is what is so wonderful about the Australian psyche. To make it a criminal offence to offend and insult, as I said, is a very subjective thing and is, in my mind, just nonsensical.
Senator Cameron once said to me—and I am not quoting him exactly—'You're not fit to be a Scotsman's shoelace,' or something like that. Well, there is a racial comment against me, and perhaps I should have been offended and insulted by that. When I told Senator Cameron the other day that he should learn to speak English properly, he did not worry too much about that. I do not think he was offended and insulted. He certainly was not humiliated or intimidated by it but, of course, some people in his party thought they could make a little bit of an issue about it and got on their high horses. I am sure that Senator Cameron was not offended or insulted by that comment. If he was, well, so what? That is what Australia is about. If he was humiliated or, if me saying that to him had, in some way, intimidated him and made him want to resign from parliament or cut his wrists or something, then perhaps that is another issue. I am sure saying that would not be classed as humiliating or intimidating.
I find that the furore created by this bill difficult to understand. The subjective test of 'offend and insult' is not something that should attract criminal penalties in whatever way the offence or insult is given, whether it be in relation to race, political beliefs or age. I get a bit of comment because of my age from people who say that they are not bigoted, racist, ageist or gender critical. They say that, and you then see how things come out. Nevertheless, if people want to offend and insult me, that is fine; I am not going to slit my wrists. That is how I have found people right across Australia to have been in what has now turned out to be a long life.
I grew up in the immediate post-war period in a place called Stanthorpe where there was a big cohort of principally Italians who had been there for some time. During the war they had sided with the Germans and they were a bit ostracised. I can still remember people who may have been treated a little bit differently in those days. They were part of Australia. They had come to Australia, as most people do, because of the way we are as Australians, because we can have a go at each other. When I was starting school, people who may have been singled out because they were Italians are people who are now leaders of the community. They have worked hard and have built up their assets, and they are now leaders in every aspect of our community.
I remember my good friend Senator John Panizza was one of them. I might say, the Labor Party in this chamber used to laugh at him when his English was not quite as good as it should have been. I was always absolutely disgusted at the way Labor Party senators used to do that. Senator Panizza is a great example of the types of people who would have had a difficult life when they first came to Australia. They wore different clothes, they did not quite speak the ocker language, but they worked hard and they succeeded and ended up very wealthy, as Senator Panizza did. He became a leader of his community. Where I live now, in Ayr in North Queensland, the Italian, Spanish, Greek and Southern European cohort of third and fourth generation is the group that, as I say, have worked very hard and have done very well. They are now, absolutely, community leaders. They are in that situation because they came to Australia because of what we were. They have contributed to what Australia now is.
This idea of trying to legislate against offence and insult is just not what Australia is about. Sure, if it goes further and humiliates and intimidates, perhaps that is something that a parliament should legislate about. But this amending bill, of course, continues the criminality of humiliation and intimidation. I support free speech in Australia and that is something that this country should be very interested in.
I have heard much better prepared and much more intellectual speeches from some of my colleagues here. I particularly noted Senator Seselja's fine contribution to this debate earlier. I agree entirely with nearly all of what he said. I think the furore that has been raised by the Labor Party, for whatever political purposes they might think are appropriate, is just ridiculous. Again, in itself it is un-Australian. I again congratulate Senator Day and those other senators who co-sponsored the bill. I am not a co-sponsor but I have indicated all along that I believe that the bill is the right way to go. It will receive my support. As I say, it is what my party took to the last election. Most Australians were aware of our party's position on this, and it certainly did not impact upon the very large majority that my party received at the last election.
This idea that government should legislate to prevent people being offended or insulted is, quite frankly, ridiculous. I repeat, as others have said, offence and insult is a very subjective test. What people say to one person may offend and insult, but they may say exactly the same thing to another person and it will not offend or insult. Government should not be legislating to define or to make criminal words that offend and insult people on the grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin or anything else. Why not have a law in case I am offended or insulted because someone says I am old? Why don't we make that a criminal offence? It would not worry me, I might say; I do not care if people offend and insult me because I am old. But are we going to legislate to stop that? Perhaps as an older person I am in a minority. Are we going to legislate to protect this minority, of which I am part, because I might be offended by what someone says about that?
I think this is a most uncontentious bill. I think it could almost be passed as a non-controversial bill, if people were thinking clearly about it and not following the party line. Perhaps some in the Labor Party see some political merit in making an issue of this. Australia is a wonderful country. We cherish our free speech. We cherish each other. We cherish people from all nationalities who have made Australia what it is today. We, as a nation, do not need government legislation to prevent us from offending and insulting one another. I strongly support the bill and again congratulate Senator Day for bringing it forward.