Turnbull says no change to 18C planned

October 21, 2015 Agencies
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Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has said that his government has no plans to reopen the call for reform to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Prime Minister Turnbull was responding to a question from Labor MP Michelle Rowland in which she asked: “Last year, when asked by Andrew Bolt about removing the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ from the Racial Discrimination Act, the Prime Minister said he was ‘very comfortable about that’. There is now a bill before the Senate which does exactly that. Does the Prime Minister stand by his comments?”

Malcolm-yk290Turnbull responded: “I thank the honourable member for her question. She raises a very good question about the terms of the prohibition in the Racial Discrimination Act, and there has been a very lively debate about whether the words there—’offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’—go too far; in other words, whether ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ are more than is required to achieve the purposes of the act. There has been a very reasonable and legitimate debate about that from people on both sides of politics. There is a bill in the Senate. It has not been considered by the government. I can say that the government does not have any plans to reopen this matter, to reopen consideration of amendments to section 18C, although I imagine it will be a matter of lively discussion in the future.

This was considered some time ago, but I think it is very important for debates of this kind to be undertaken at the right time and place and in the right context. We have to bear in mind—and the honourable member would well understand this, I have got no doubt—that we have in our society, as in all free societies, to balance the demands of free speech, of which we are all in favour, with also ensuring domestic harmony. We have to bear in mind the very wise points that were made overnight by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, David Cameron, who made the point—and it is a point with which I entirely agree—that, when we talk about extremist violence or violent extremism, terrorism, we have to remember that it has its beginnings in extremist language, in hateful language that seeks to set one group against another. So these are important matters of dealing with these balances of security and speech. I look forward to the honourable member and other honourable members making a contribution on this, but the short answer to your question is: the government has no plans to change the Racial Discrimination Act at all, but it is an important debate that we should have in a free society, about the limits of speech and the way in which we can best ensure that we preserve social harmony and security and at the same time ensure that there is free speech.

He added: “It is not susceptible to a simple black-or-white answer. It is a complex equation and it is one that I hope that all honourable members will be able to participate in, as we always should, because, after all, this should be the absolute centre of free speech in our nation.”

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