RN Breakfast With Fran Kelly

SUBJECT/S: Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; Marriage equality, Indigenous legal services



SUBJECT/S: Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act; Marriage equality, Indigenous legal services

FRANK KELLY, HOST: Federal Parliament doesn’t sit until the end of this month, but already we’re seeing the new and expanded Senate crossbench flex its muscle. Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm will introduce a Bill he says to dump altogether Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person because of their race, colour or ethnic origin. And he has the support of some of the new crossbenchers in this mission, including One Nation’s Malcolm Roberts, who says minorities wouldn’t be hurt or offended unless they choose to take offence.

SENATOR MALCOLM ROBERTS: Not at all. Because Barrie, you can call me short, you can call me fat, you can call me a Queenslander, you can call me a cane toad, whatever you want to call me, the only person who decides whether I’m upset is me. If free speech is free speech, anything less than that is not free speech.

KELLY: That’s One Nation’s new recruit Malcolm Roberts speaking on Insiders yesterday. The Attorney-General, George Brandis, says the Government has no plans to reform 18C, though some Coalition MPs are now publically supporting this change again. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General, he joins us from Broome, where we gave him a very early wake up call this morning. Mark Dreyfus, good morning.


KELLY: Now, if you don’t want to be offended, it’s up to you, don’t be offended. That’s how David Leyonhjelm, and as we just heard there, Malcolm Roberts view it. People can choose not to take offence. The concept of offence is abstract and subjective. Is it as simple as that?

DREYFUS: No. Look, this is going to be a test again of Mr Turnbull’s leadership. We’ve now got not only Coalition backbenchers, but Senator Leyonhjelm, new Senator Roberts from One Nation, apparently new Senator Derryn Hinch, all saying they want another go at weakening the protections against race hate speech, that has served Australia very well for more than 20 years. The community won this fight back in 2014. It was abandoned by Tony Abbott and George Brandis then, and Malcolm Turnbull has to rule out making 18C in any way a bargaining chip. He has got to say loud and clear to these incoming senators, and to Senator Leyonhjelm, that he is not going to be reconsidering or revisiting any change to 18C.

KELLY: Tony Abbott has since written that he regrets dumping the moves to change Section 18C. Those who support the change call it, well some of them call it rather sneeringly I guess, the Hurt Feelings Provision. Could we remove the words from 18C, the words offend and insult, leaving in place humiliate and intimidate in the Act. Will that give enough protection?

DREYFUS: There’s no need to change Section 18C. It’s ill-informed comment that’s led to these kinds of attacks, and you’ve got to look at the way in which it has operated over the past 21 years or so. There have been some hundreds of complaints in that time to the Human Rights Commission. The vast majority of them have been resolved by compulsory conciliation. A handful have gone to court and if you read the court judgements, they are all serious cases. It’s worked very well. None of these arguments amount to anything. What are these critics saying? That they want to return to racist hate speech in the community?

KELLY: They are saying they want to guarantee freedom of speech.

DREYFUS: They should be looking at attacking consumer protection laws, which are restrictions on free speech, or national security laws.

KELLY: It’s always a powerful argument though isn’t it, the argument of preserving freedom of speech in a democracy like ours. Getting the balance right is what it’s all about.

DREYFUS: Sure, and the balance is right Fran. We draw lines all over the place. This line is against race hate speech. Malcolm Turnbull needs to draw that line and reaffirm that line. Race hate speech makes people sick. That’s what I’ve heard from Aboriginal communities. That’s what I’ve heard from other ethnic communities right across Australia. I want to live in a community which is a harmonious community, in which we draw a line against this kind of speech. I don’t accept the proposition that we need to engage in race hate speech to have a proper political debate.

KELLY: But others don’t accept the proposition that we need it. Tell us now what you fear would happen if this 18C was removed or wound back.

DREYFUS: We would see a rise in race hate speech in Australia. I would invite those new senators to stand in the shoes of ethnic communities, to stand in the shoes of people who are vilified by race hate speech, and see how they would feel. And that’s what they’re not doing. We don’t need as part of our community, which has been, I think on an increasing basis, a tolerant and harmonious and accepting community, we don’t need this kind of speech and you can be assured that Labor will stand again, if necessary, with ethnic communities across Australia to fight these attempts to change Section 18C.

KELLY: There’s a debate going on at the moment around the Bill Leak cartoon published in The Australian last week depicting an Aboriginal man holding a can of beer, who apparently doesn’t know his son’s name. The boy is held by the collar by a policeman. In your view, is that cartoon in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, 18C?

DREYFUS: I’m not going to make legal comment on air. I think it was an ill-judged cartoon. I’ve actually been very heartened by the response from Indigenous communities, running hard on social media. You’ve got Indigenous Dads posting images of themselves and their kids, and that’s actually a lovely response to the kind of ill-judged cartoon we saw from Bill Leak.

KELLY: It’s sixteen to eight on Breakfast. Our guest is the Shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus. Mark Dreyfus, on another issue that will come before this Parliament, that is the marriage equality plebiscite. We still don’t know what Labor’s position is. Will Labor support the enabling legislation for the marriage equality plebiscite, because at least two Labor MPs so far have gone public saying they want Labor to block the Bill. Where do you stand?

DREYFUS: We, throughout the election campaign and when this was first announced in August last year, said very clearly that we want to see a vote in the Parliament.

KELLY: Yes, I know, but that’s not the question. If you get legislation for the plebiscite, will you block it or not?

DREYFUS: You opened this question Fran by saying, we still don’t know what Labor’s position is. We still don’t know, despite your valiant attempts on Insiders a couple of weeks back, we still don’t know what the legislation looks like. We don’t know what the question is. The Government has not produced the Bill. I’d call on Mr Turnbull immediately to produce this Bill, because if it is to be the case that the plebiscite is to be on this year, which is something the Government promised, then the legislation needs to be introduced as soon as the Parliament convenes on 30 August. For that purpose we need to see the Bill.

KELLY: Just finally, you’re in Broome, speaking with Indigenous groups about funding cuts to Indigenous legal services. They’re going to lose $6 million from 1 July next year, that’s almost ten percent of their funding. Considering what we’ve all witnessed at the Don Dale Detention Centre thanks to Four Corners, what kind of pressure do you think the Government is going to come under to reverse those cuts?

DREYFUS: We’ve been trying to get the Government to reverse these cuts since they were first announced by the Attorney-General Senator Brandis in 2014. This is a time of rising legal need, and the Government has met that rising legal need by cutting funding. I think it’s well understood by everyone associated with Indigenous justice, that legal assistance services, that’s Aboriginal Legal Services, Community Legal Services, provide an absolutely essential part of the justice system. They need to be supported. We’re going to continue to call on Senator Brandis and Mr Turnbull to restore those funding cuts and indeed increase the amounts of funding available. It’s not just in Indigenous justice, it’s domestic violence as well. This is the frontline of services and this is not the time to be cutting funding out of Aboriginal Legal Services, or Community Legal Services, or Legal Aid.

KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thank you for joining us.

DREYFUS: Good to be with you Fran.

KELLY: Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General.