Standing up for 18C

Sometimes politics is full of surprises, but at other times it is sadly predictable. So when I heard Senator Amanda Stoker say yesterday during a television interview, '18C has got to go,' I was exasperated but I was not surprised.

Mr DREYFUS (Isaacs—Deputy Manager of Opposition Business) (19:50):  Sometimes politics is full of surprises, but at other times it is sadly predictable. So when I heard Senator Amanda Stoker say yesterday during a television interview, '18C has got to go,' I was exasperated but I was not surprised. It's almost as if the Liberal Party is governed by some kind of universal law: if they talk long enough, eventually one of them must bring up the destruction of section 18C. But I do not speak in jest.

The importance of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in our multicultural society cannot and must not be underestimated. In case the House needs reminding, section 18C outlaws offending, insulting, humiliating or intimidating someone on the basis of their race. It is the strongest legislated protection that vulnerable minorities in this country have against racial hate speech. Over and over through the nearly four years I have defended this part of our law, I've been told by people around this country how important it is to them—how it helps them feel protected and at home in this country. I doubt that any of the Liberal MPs and senators who continue this ideological obsession with destroying section 18C have ever bothered to have these same conversations with the people who are protected by it. I believe that if they did, they would drop their vendetta immediately.

As I mentioned before, I've been shadow Attorney-General for nearly five years, and four of those have been spent defending 18C from Liberal Party attacks. It's something I'm proud to do, but it should not be necessary. We've now had two serious attempts by this government to destroy section 18C. The first was in 2014 under the Abbott government and led by former Senator Brandis, who infamously declared that people have the right to be bigots. This attempt was met with a groundswell of opposition from civil society groups across the country, with marches, protests and letter campaigns that eventually convinced the government to back down.

Any normal government would have been humiliated by this experience, but three years later, unbelievably, the government tried again, this time under a Prime Minister who everyone expected to be better: Mr Turnbull. Last year's battle once again exposed the party's nasty, ideological obsession with section 18C and, once again, they failed in their vendetta. People who stood up in 2014 stood up again and they won again.

Now, here we stand in 2018 and another Liberal senator casually calls once again for the destruction of section 18C. And what have we heard from this disappointment of a Prime Minister? Nothing. Crickets! Why won't this Prime Minister stand up for common sense and good policy and correct Senator Stoker? Why won't he make a public statement about the importance of section 18C as a backbone of our multicultural society to stop these ongoing attacks from within his own party? I'll tell you why: he's never been willing to stand up to the far right wing of his party. He's an arrogant, out-of-touch Prime Minister who serves them instead of the multicultural communities of Australia.

Throughout last year's attacks by his backbench on section 18C, Mr Turnbull did not dare defend the protections against racial hate speech—even as a concept. It was a shocking dereliction of duty by a Prime Minister. But there is still time for him to fix this. In the meantime, I would ask those opposite, including Senator Stoker in the Senate: do they know the damage they do with their casual remarks when, from their position of privilege, they throw out a comment that protections against racial hate speech should be destroyed? Honestly, part of being a good member of parliament is the ability to put yourself in others' shoes, to have empathy and to imagine what impact your words and actions may have on people not like you.

I sincerely hope that Senator Stoker's remarks are not the beginning of yet another push from the Liberal Party to destroy section 18C—but, if they are, the Labor Party is ready. We have fought and won twice and we will fight and win again. Section 18C is too important to leave captive to this Liberal Party. It is too important to too many Australians. Labor will always fight for and protect section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.