Doorstop, Parliament House Canberra

Subject/s: Coalition backbenchers defying the Prime Minister to water down Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.










Subject/s: Coalition backbenchers defying the Prime Minister to water down Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: There is open rebellion against the Prime Minister over Section 18C. Yesterday Senator Bernardi introduced something signed by some 20 Liberal and National backbench senators calling for changes to Section 18C. This is an argument which was had in 2014. The Government abandoned its attempt to change Section 18C in 2014 and for good reason. There is no reason to change Section 18C. It’s a provision which has served Australia very well for more than 20 years. It prevents hate speech, it prevents racist abuse being hurled at other Australians and it’s the right place to draw the line. Now Mr Turnbull needs to show some leadership. Mr Turnbull needs to actually start acting like a Prime Minister and tell Senator Bernardi, and the 20 Liberal and National Party backbench senators that there will be no change to Section 18C. That it is the policy of this government that there will be no change to Section 18C, and bring to an end this ridiculous debate. It’s long past time for Mr Turnbull to act. He should show some leadership. At present he is showing none. Weasel words like “it’s not a priority of our government “, or worse, that there are “worthy arguments” for change to Section 18C simply provide encouragement to these rebelling backbenchers in the Liberal and National parties in the Senate. It is absolutely long past time for Mr Turnbull to show some leadership and bring this to an end. Any questions?


JOURNALIST: Would Labor consider changing Section 18D [inaudible] to provide more exemptions?


DREYFUS: It’s very good to hear mention being made of Section 18D which is the provision in the Racial Discrimination Act that actually provides protections and provides the balance to this prohibition on racist hate speech. Section 18D is the provision in the Act which protects political speech, it protects fair comment, it protects things said in good faith, it protects artistic endeavour. And again the two sections have to be read together. Together they have served Australia very well by drawing a line, and the line is drawn in the right place. No, Labor does not think that there needs to be any change to Section 18D, the provision which provides the protections.


JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten has asked Mr Turnbull to make a statement today. Have you seen the statement, do you know what it says, have you helped him draft what he’s going to say, have you given him any tips on what you’d like to hear?


DREYFUS: I’ve read in the media today that Mr Turnbull has accepted Mr Shorten’s invitation to sponsor a motion in the same form as was moved by Mr Howard, seconded by Mr Beazley, back in 1996. It’s a statement that will condemn racism, it’s a statement that will state very clearly a principle for the Australian Parliament, which I hope every member of the Australian Parliament can agree to. That we draw a line against racism, we stand up to racism, we say no to racism.


JOURNALIST: The Law Council is concerned about proposed changes by ASIO regarding special warrants that allow suspects to be detained for questioning. Does Labor hold similar concerns to the Law Council, will you be blocking any attempt to streamline the judicial process of these warrants?


DREYFUS: Labor has shown repeatedly that we will consider all necessary changes to our national security laws, and when we are considering those necessary changes to our national security laws, to respond to changes in threat levels to our national security in Australia, we will also consider the need for safeguards, for checks and balances, through some five inquiries conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Over the course of the last Parliament, Labor demonstrated how that approach can work. The government demonstrated its acceptance of Labor’s approach by agreeing to more than 100 recommended amendments to the national security bills that the Parliament brought forward in the last term. Our position will be exactly the same in this Parliament. If our agencies say that they need new powers to deal with terror threats that they are facing or that they are needing to deal with on behalf of Australia then we will consider those requests for new powers and at the same time look at what appropriate safeguards and checks and balances can be brought in.


JOURNALIST: On higher education, the government [inaudible] a reform paper for universities. What are your views on partial fee deregulation and as a side note how much did  you pay when you went to university?


DREYFUS: Well I’m a bit older than Chris Bowen and I was in the happy position of paying no fees when I went through university. I don’t think Australia is now in a position – where we have considerably higher percentages of Australians going to tertiary education to return to free fees. Perhaps it’s a regret but I don’t think we’re able to. In the 70s we had 10 per cent of Australians going into tertiary education and it’s now more like 30 per cent. But Labor has made our position clear in relation to fee deregulation. No further questions?