Take Note of Answers - Racial Discrimination Act 1975

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:17): I am very, very proud to live in a country like Australia. We all recognise that we are living in the most successful multicultural society in the world, built on a foundation of mutual respect. We are not a racist country; neither I nor anyone on this side of the chamber believes that to be the truth for a moment. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Brandis, made that very clear in his answers earlier today.

It is sad to me that the official opposition, the Australian Labor Party and, perhaps more significantly, the Australian Greens, think that Australia is a racist country. The question by Senator Di Natale during question time was the low point in question time in this Senate. Senator Di Natale, you may think Australians are racist. I do not, and not many people would share your view.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Macdonald, please take your seat.

Senator Di Natale: I rise on two points of order. I ask that Senator Macdonald not address his response directly to me but to address it through the chair, as is appropriate. Also, I would like to point out that Senator Macdonald is completely misrepresenting my position and I ask him to withdraw.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, the second point is a debating point. But I do remind Senator Macdonald and all senators to address the chair in their remarks. Please continue.

Senator IAN MACDONALD: You always know in this chamber when you are hitting the mark. You will have spurious points of order made as we just had by Senator Di Natale. Anyone who listened to question time today would have been disgusted at the tenor and nature of that question from Senator Di Natale earlier.

We, as Australians, value freedom of speech and we recognise the enormous benefits that multiculturalism has delivered to our country. We are a very proud multicultural society. I always say that all of us in Australia were at one stage immigrants to this land through our forebears—my forbears used to run around the highlands of Scotland wearing dresses and little skirts—but we have all integrated into Australia and we reflect our traditions once or twice a year at particular times. We have pipe bands, which are good. It is part of the multicultural nature of our society that has been so successful over so many years.

It is important that we understand how this whole debate started. The original section 18C was preceded by three significant independent inquiries: the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission's National Inquiry into Racist Violence and the Australian Law Reform Commission's inquiry into Multiculturalism and the Law. None recommended that the current law should apply. Instead, they recommended that the law tackle racist harassment and incitement to hostility. So 'harass' in the proposal put forward by the government today reflects the recommendations of the National Inquiry into Racist Violence conducted in 1991 by the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.

I will point out that it is not just coalition politicians talking about this and raising these issues. A distinguished law professor, Professor George Williams—a former ALP preselection candidate—who is currently the Dean of Law at the University of New South Wales, said:

Despite its limited operation, there is a good case for amending section 18C. … the law should proscribe extreme forms of speech such as racial vilification and incitement to violence. Section 18C—

as it currently stands—

goes too far in applying to more minor forms of speech, in particular words that offend or insult.

David Marr, a journalist from The Guardian newspaper, of all, says:

I want "offend" and "insult" taken out of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. I don't think the law should engage at that level. But I can't see that this country would be a better, freer place if "humiliate" and "intimidate" went too.

He is even suggesting a stronger response.

The proposal put forward by the government gets rid of the political correctness, it gets rid of the issues that Professor Williams and David Marr—to name just two—have raised in relation to this issue, and it does bring us to a very sensible amendment to a law that has caused so much controversy and has led to such injustice in the cases of the QUT issue and Mr Leak. (Time expired)

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