Parliament House Transcript

SUBJECT/S: 18c, Syrian refugee intake








SUBJECT/S: 18c, Syrian refugee intake


MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Day one of Malcolm Turnbull and the government’s attempt to legalise giving offense, insulting, and humiliating people in Australia and it’s not going well. It’s already had the endorsement of One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts. This is what Senator Roberts had to say: “We’re very happy that the government is starting to actually follow One Nation’s lead”. Well I’ve been heartened by the response from multicultural communities across Australia who have come out en masse to condemn this attempt to weaken the protections of Australia’s race hate laws, and the protections these laws have provided for more than 20 years. In particular I was heartened by the joint statement by the Hellenic Council of Australia, by the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the United Indian Association, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, two Chinese community groups, and the Armenian National Committee of Australia – this is what they said: “these changes will give a free pass to ugly and damaging forms of racial vilification which do not satisfy the stringent legal criteria of harassment and intimidation”. The Australian Israel/Jewish Affairs Council in a separate statement said that: “these proposed changes would significantly weaken the laws that have protected Australia from race hate speech for more than 20 years”. Malcolm Turnbull should hang his head in shame. Malcolm Turnbull needs to get out more, he should come out of his Point Piper circle and come to Dandenong in my electorate or Bankstown in western Sydney, and talk to members of multicultural communities. Talk to people whose lives are blighted by racial vilification. He should think hard about why he chose yesterday – Harmony Day, the International Day Against Racial Discrimination – to launch this latest attack on the protections against race hate speech. It’s something that Labor is going to fight every step of the way. Even though it seems from news reports this morning that this is already dead in the water, Labor will fight this every step of the way, we will do whatever it takes to stand shoulder to shoulder with ethnic communities across Australia to make sure that these dreadful changes never become part of the law in Australia, that the protections that are there now remain in force.


REPORTER: But it appears now you might not even need to wage that battle because as soon as last night the Nick Xenophon Team was saying that they would outright block these changes to the laws. How would you describe the government’s handling of this whole situation? Has it really been an almighty flop?


DREYFUS: You could start with words like inept, appalling and disgraceful. One is left wondering, what is this government actually doing when two weeks out from the budget, and instead of talking about how to deal with the ballooning deficit, instead of talking about how to deal with the national debt, instead of talking about how to do something about the jobless rate, the stagnant nature of wages in this country – instead of any of those things, what the government wants to talk about is its ideological obsession with section 18C, the talisman of the right of Australian politics. It leaves you thinking what is this government actually interested in, what is their sense of priorities, nobody in my electorate in a multicultural electorate is calling for these protections against race hate speech to be weakened. I don’t think that seriously any Australian, if you actually put it to them, really want race hate speech protections to be weakened, but this government is embarked on a course that even though it’s dead in the water, there they are out there with the Prime Minister on Facebook trying to spruik for these ridiculous changes.


REPORTER: There are reports in The Daily Telegraph this morning that the government has welcomed 10,000 Syrian refugees and issued another 2,000 visas, that is due to be announced this evening reportedly. But apparently the government has given priority to persecuted Christians in the Middle East. So is it a bit bittersweet? I know that Labor was warning against singling out a single religion for that program.


DREYFUS: We have never selected people for immigration to Australia on the basis of religion. I would be very disturbed if we were starting to do that now. More Muslims have been killed in the conflict in the Middle East than the members of any other religion. This is a sectarian conflict as much as it is anything else. Of course, Christians are persecuted in the Middle East and of course Muslims are being persecuted in the Middle East, and members of other religions as well. One could point out the Yazidis – another religion in the Middle East who have suffered dreadfully at the hands of ISIS. We should not start to select people for immigration to Australia, we should not start to select people who we are offering refuge to in Australia on the basis of religion. Thanks very much.