Matters of Public Importance – Racial Discrimination Act

Senator DAY (South Australia): There have been a number of motions and other matters in this place that I could have supported were it not for the way they were drafted. I oppose this because it talks about ‘hate speech’, an emotionally charged phrase if there ever was one, a phrase deliberately designed to misrepresent what this debate is about. This debate is not about hate speech; it is about free speech. Calling socially unacceptable comments ‘hate speech’ is itself a restriction on free speech. I do have a concern about the direction the government is moving on free speech. The government has moved from a pre-election promise to promote free speech to a post-election position of doing nothing and to recent statements that perhaps it will look to even further restrict free speech. The private senators’ bill that I and senators Leyonhjelm, Bernardi and Smith co-sponsored represents a sensible move to address free speech concerns in the Racial Discrimination Act. If the government has now decided that it is withdrawing the benefit of the doubt and going to the DRS, the decision review system, instead, the sensible ruling would be to take my approach, and that of my co-sponsors, and remove the contentious ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ provisions altogether. Our bill does not wipe out section 18C. It leaves the other parts like ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’ alone. An example of what my co-sponsors and I are on about is the recent case where the Prime Minister singled out a certain Islamic group for critique and, potentially, legal sanctions. Yet, if you look at an interview on Lateline with a spokesperson for that group, you will see the great public benefit gained by allowing that organisation to have as much free speech as it wants. Professional, forensic interviews and critiques of the positions advocated by that group will expose to the public the very disturbing aspects of their beliefs and the serious problems with their statements and whether or not they sit well with the Australian people. Banning that group’s freedom to speak, however, is not the answer.

Family First has consistently supported national security bills in this place as it believes these are the best methods to guard against those who promote and support terrorist activity. When people act or conspire to commit criminal acts at home or abroad, then we have criminal laws to deal with them. It is unacceptable, however, to have criminal laws dealing with matters of debate and speech. Since my co-sponsors, whom I again thank today for their support—and I notice that Senator Smith is here in the chamber—and I tabled a bill to reform section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, we have seen some appalling further attacks on free speech in Europe. People have paid with their lives for the freedom to speak as they find. As my wife’s Auntie Esther used to say, ‘I speak as I find.’ If we support free speech—one of the foundations of this place—then the right thing to do is to remove the prohibitions against it.

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