Changes to section 18C

November 11, 2016 by Bill Shorten
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The Turnbull Liberal Government wants to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to weaken protections against racist hate speech…writes Bill Shorten.

Labor leader Bill Shorten

Labor leader Bill Shorten

The party I lead, the Australian Labor Party, celebrates the great strength of Australia’s diversity.

I count myself lucky to live in a nation made great by migration.

Millions of people, from all walks of life and from all corners of the world have chosen to make Australia their home – and our whole country has benefited as a result.

This is why I will never support the Liberals’ plans to water down protections against prejudice.

Weakening safeguards against hate speech will not create one new job.

Giving a green light to racism won’t ease traffic on our roads.

Softening the Racial Discrimination Act won’t help a single pensioner pay her bills, it won’t put one new teacher in our schools, or train one new doctor in our suburbs.

This is nothing but a vendetta driven by ideology, a nonsense fixation of the extreme right wing of the Liberal party.

Last time the government tried this, the Attorney-General, Senator Brandis, said it was about ‘the right to be a bigot’.

Sadly, nothing has changed.

After years of listening to Conservatives carry on about this issue, I’ve never got an answer to some basic questions:

What exactly do they want people to be able to say?

What hurtful words and phrases do they want back in the national debate?

What offensive, humiliating vitriol do they Australia should be encouraging?

What do they hope to gain by stirring this up?

Sadly, you’ve probably heard some of those words from time-to-time. Perhaps your parents had to deal with worse.

Australia still has work to do to eliminate racism from our society and this is no time for taking a backward step.

The truth of the matter is, the current laws are working well.

The overwhelming majority of cases are resolved through conciliation.

Almost every time, the trained conciliator, the offender and the victim engage in a respectful dialogue, the offence is explained and an apology is given.

Evidence shows both parties perceive this as a fair process, and a mutually satisfactory one.

If Malcolm Turnbull starts messing around with this, he risks creating a new foothold for divisive and hateful abuse.

Sending a dangerous, insidious signal that this issue isn’t as serious as it was before.

That somehow, in some way, the need to protect people from prejudice is reduced.

This is just plain wrong.

Your children should not have to live in an Australia where they are more vulnerable to abuse because of the way they look, more at risk of bullying because of how they dress or more likely to be targeted with offensive language because of where they come from.

It’s wrong that this Prime Minister is prepared to damage harmony in our society, to protect his own job.

Two years ago, your community rose up to defeat these changes. You joined your voices to a mighty chorus.

Now, we need you again.

Labor will fight these changes every step of the way in the parliament. We need your help to spread the message in the community.

So tell your friends, your colleagues, your family and neighbours.

Most importantly, tell Malcolm Turnbull and his MPs.

Tell them no-one has the right to be a bigot.

Tell them we don’t just tolerate diversity in Australia, we celebrate it.

Tell them respect is more important than racism.

If we stand together, we will prevail.

Bill Shorten is the Leader of the Opposition in the Australian parliament

Comments

One Response to “Changes to section 18C”
  1. Debbie Scholem says:

    Using the rather bizarre and unfortunately protracted case of the Queensland Uni students is just another excuse to change something which ain’t broken. The Human Rights Commission are there to do everything possible to mediate between parties but sometimes they fail. As for Bill Leak being “persecuted by the Commission”, as I heard one pro-change politician say earlier this week, I would ask this politician not to use a word that’s emotive, inaccurate and just plain inappropriate. We Jews know what that word means.

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