For over 20 years, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) has embodied our nation’s condemnation of racial vilification. It has protected our citizens and our society from the poisonous effects of hate speech. At the same time, its sister provision, section 18D, has operated to protect free speech. That was until the last term of the Liberal Government, when the then Prime Minster Tony Abbott claimed these protections were somehow a threat to intellectual freedom in Australia.
The Abbott Government eventually saw sense and abandoned its divisive proposal. Under the Turnbull Government, the conservative right wing of the Liberal Party is continuing its campaign to pass laws that will water down our long-standing protections against racist hate speech.
This is unacceptable. I do not support amendments that will remove or reduce these protections. I believe the Act, as it currently stands, strikes the right balance between condemning hate speech while also protecting free speech. Australia is a multicultural society and freedom of speech is a value that, like many democratic values, must always be counterbalanced against competing values.
It is my unequivocal view that racism has no place in modern Australia, and the Government should be setting an example by standing up against bigotry, not placating those who believe that our political debate will somehow be improved by changing our laws to permit public statements that are likely to offend or insult people on the basis of their race.
Labor does not support changes to 18C and neither do I. I am proud that we stand with thousands of individuals, legal experts and organisations, as well as 155 community groups from across our nation, to rally against this reckless ideological attack.
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