House of Representatives Speech- Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2014-2015

I want to address some questions to the Minister for Justice about section 18C, but first I want to mention the comments that have just been made by the member for Higgins and responded to by the minister in relation to the Secure Schools Program. What was missing from the minister's answer and, indeed, what was missing from what was said by the member for Higgins was any acknowledgement—and one was due—about the fact that there is bipartisan support for the Secure Schools Program and that there was $20 million in the 2008 budget for three years for the Secure Schools Program to fund security works not just in Jewish schools but in schools at risk from racially and religiously motivated violence, which we deplore, not just in Melbourne but throughout Australia. And there was a further $15 million in the 2011 budget over three years, which I had assumed had bipartisan support.

  I want to address some questions to the Minister for Justice about section 18C, but first I want to mention the comments that have just been made by the member for Higgins and responded to by the minister in relation to the Secure Schools Program. What was missing from the minister's answer and, indeed, what was missing from what was said by the member for Higgins was any acknowledgement—and one was due—about the fact that there is bipartisan support for the Secure Schools Program and that there was $20 million in the 2008 budget for three years for the Secure Schools Program to fund security works not just in Jewish schools but in schools at risk from racially and religiously motivated violence, which we deplore, not just in Melbourne but throughout Australia. And there was a further $15 million in the 2011 budget over three years, which I had assumed had bipartisan support. The Minister for Justice in talking now is forgetting that for the last six years, supported by our Labor government, there have been works performed at Jewish schools throughout the country and, I might add, at some Muslim schools and, in one case, in a government school in south-west Sydney where security was needed to be enhanced because of religiously or racially motivated violence. Of course, both parties went to the last election very directly supporting an extension of the Secure Schools Program and both parties at the last election supported not just an extension of funding for the Secure Schools Program for capital works but also an extension of funding to cover some recurrent funding for security guards in Jewish schools. I am very pleased to see the program continuing and I would have thought that the minister or perhaps the member for Higgins might have found it in themselves to acknowledge the work done by the Labor government over both of the last terms.

But I wanted to raise with the minister the appalling conduct of both the Attorney-General and the government in general over its proposed repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

It is a pity that they have not been able to do anything about the Attorney-General, who thinks it is appropriate to stand up in the Australian Senate and say things like, 'People do have a right to be bigots, you know.'

I wanted particularly to refer to a letter by Moshe Gutnik, the President of the Organisation of Rabbis of Australasia; Yehoram Ulman, the President of the Rabbinical Council of New South Wales; and Meir Shlomo of the Rabbinical Council of Victoria, who thought it was necessary to write to The Australian newspaper last month, pointing out that Tim Wilson, the Human Rights Commissioner appointed by this government, was completely wrong when he suggested that there was any support from any rabbinical organisation in this country for the changes proposed to be made by this government to section 18C. They reminded the people of Australia—and I remind the people of Australia and every member of this parliament—that last month was the month in which Jewish people and others around the world marked Holocaust Remembrance Day. They ended their letter with these words:

None of us dares forget, and Wilson and the government would do well to remember that racist words have evil consequences.

What we are seeing from this government is a gutting of the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, a removal of the protections that have served Australia well for almost 20 years and its replacement, it would seem, with something that it is now absolutely clear would permit, among other things, all kinds of vile, racist abuse in public and, in particular, Holocaust denial to occur. This government should be ashamed of itself for its conduct in proposing a gutting of these provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the member for Higgins and the Minister for Justice need to be reflecting when they are so quick to say that they condemn anti-Semitism and that they want to do what they can to protect the Jewish schools in the electorate of the member for Higgins, because the two things go together.

I have a couple of questions for the Minister for Justice: when is the government going to make public the 5,700 submissions that it has received, and when is the government going to announce what it is going to do, which should be to drop its proposal on the Racial Discrimination Act?