Right to be a bigot

March 24, 2014 by Henry Benjamin
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The Abbott Government is committed to repealing Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This sensitive topic was the subject of two important exchanges in parliament today…in the Senate, Attorney-General Senator George Brandis declared that “people have a right to be bigots” and in the House of Representatives Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “Sometimes free speech will be speech which upsets people”.

The exchange in the Senate:

Senator Nova Peris:

Senator George Brandis

Senator George Brandis

I refer the Attorney-General to comments made by the member for Hasluck, Mr Wyatt, who told Fairfax Media ‘What I wouldn’t like to see is regression allow those who have bigoted viewpoints to vilify any group of people at all. Won’t removing 18C facilitate vilification by bigots?”

Senator George Brandis – Attorney-General:

Well Mr President, people do have a right to be bigots you know. In a free country people do have a right to say things other people find offensive, or insulting or bigoted. Nevertheless, Senator Peris, through you Mr President, may I point out to you that Section 18C  in its current form does not prohibit racial vilification.”

The exchange in the House of Representatives

Tanya Plibersek – Deputy Leader of the Opposition.

My question is to the Prime Minister.  For almost 20 years, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has protected the Australian community from the divisive and destructive effects of racially motivated hate speech while preserving freedom of speech. Why is the Prime Minister weakening decades of protection against racial hate speech and does the Prime Minister agree with the Attorney-General when he said today in the Senate and I quote ‘People do have a right to be bigots’?”

Prime Minister Tony Abbott:

Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott

Of course this government is determined to try to ensure that Australia remains a free and fair and tolerant society where bigotry and racism has no place, of course, of course.

But we also want this country to be a nation where freedom of speech is enjoyed and sometimes free speech will be speech which upsets people, which offends people. It is in the nature of free speech that sometimes some people won’t like it.”

Robert Goot, president of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry told J-Wire: ““Australians look to the government to uphold standards and set an example.  The only message we should be hearing from the government about racial bigotry is that it is wrong and harmful to both the people it targets and to the cohesiveness of society as a whole.”   

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has issued a statement following the government’s stated commitment to repealing Section 18C.

Mark Dreyfus:

“Senator Brandis has clearly revealed today he intends to give a green light to racist hate speech in Australia and the Prime Minister confirmed those plans in Question Time today:

ABBOTT:  We will do, in Government exactly what we committed to in Opposition and in Opposition, before the election we said that we will repeal section 18C in its current form.


Dreyfus continued: “Labor is deeply concerned by the scope of changes the Government is planning to Section 18C.

Tony Abbott and Senator Brandis have shown they’re not prepared to listen to community groups, experts, or their own MPs, who vigorously oppose the watering down of legal protections against racism.

The Government should leave Section 18C exactly as it is. It has served our community well for almost 20 years.”

J-Wire asked Liberal member Josh Frydenberg, who is backing the move to repeal Section 18C, for a comment on Senator Brandis’s statement.

Josh Frydenberg

Josh Frydenberg

In an interview with journalist Andrew Bolt who himself was prosecuted and found guilty under Section 18C, Frydenberg was asked if he thought Jewish leaders were wrong in fighting the changes to Section 18C.

Frydenberg responded: I disagree with them on this issue in the sense that I do believe that section 18C does need to be amended because you’re going to get that balance right between freedom of speech and of course being strongly against racism and of course racial vilification. George Brandis has consulted widely. He has talked to Tony Abbott, we’ve had a discussion in the Party room. I’m pretty hopeful that we’ll get that balance right so we don’t people like you who we believe were unfairly hit by these laws subjected to them in the future.

Andrew Bolt then asked:  “So people like Jewish representatives who are the noisiest things…this Peter Wertheim, Mark Leibler…why are they so strong on this issue when other Jewish friends of mine say they’re wrong?”

Frydenberg responded: “Look Andrew, I am very sympathetic  with where they’re coming from. Look Andrew, they’re good people they’re good advocates not just for the Jewish community but they’ve done a lot of work for helping other migrant communities. And what they don’t want to see is a green light to racial vilification. So it’s about getting that balance right. We do not want Holocaust denial in our country. I believe you can amend 18C without hurting our ability to punish those racially vilify other people.”

He is yet to respond.





2 Responses to “Right to be a bigot”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    Who can blame a sycophant for being brainless !!??
    No one can accuse someone already evidently brainless of being intellectually bipolar or espousing double standards !!!
    Quite evidently, our Josh has great ambitions/plans for himself and picks the right trees to bark/climb. Question is, is he fully aware that people read the stuff he utters !!!

    There have been times when I wished there were more Jews involved in politics in Australia, but then I woke up and wished the nightmare would be gone.
    Dreyfuss is, however, as a Johnny -come-late, making a more credible effort, yet shorter and non-repetitive retorts, not to mention clear addressing of tangibles, would attract more intense and definitely complete run attention.

  2. Lynne Newington says:

    This is what happens when you have a divided house.
    Its the same as Francis and his divided Jewish supporters in Argentina where there was a ratline right from the front door of the Vatican and Pius X11, now on the road to sainthood.. giving the likes of Andrew Bolte to use it against you.
    You all had Jewish mothers drinking Jewish milk that should be reason enough to stick together.

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