Yesterday in Parliament several government MPs, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, decried Labor’s opposition to proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) as a claim that Australians are racist. “[The Opposition] believe[s] that Australia is a nation of racists only held in check by Gillian Triggs and section 18C,” said Turnbull. “We have more respect for the Australian people.” Turnbull and at least three other government members claimed that Labor’s opposition to the changes stemmed from Labor’s belief that Australians are deeply racist.
Now some government MPs and Senators are pushing for opposition to the changes to the bill to be outlawed as discriminatory and offensive. “When Labor opposes our very reasonable changes to strengthen the race hate laws by weakening them, they make the very clear, very specific claim that I personally am irretrievably racist,” said Senator Eric Abetz. “This personal attack is intolerable and I have suggested to my colleagues that we need a new package of free speech law to protect against this kind of bullying.”
The government is trying to secure support for its changes to the RDA to remove the words “offend, insult or humiliate” and replace them with the single word “harrass”. “We are strengthening the race hate laws,” Prime Minister Turnbull told reporters in a press conference on Monday. “We are strengthening it because it’s clearer, it will be a more effective protection against race/hate.”
Senator Mathias Cormann said that “Blocking our very necessary changes to 18C is profoundly un-Australian. I’m proud to be a real Aussie, not like those Aboriginals who just want to cause trouble.”
The concerns about the 18C provisions were sparked by multiple court cases brought against columnist Andrew Bolt and cartoonist Bill Leak. Some conservative members of the Government would prefer clause 18C to be abandoned entirely, arguing it is a constraint against free speech. Even the current changes, however, face an uphill battle in the Senate.
The existing provisions of 18C have been in place for two decades and there now exists many years of case law clarifying the legal definitions of the terms “offend, insult or humiliate”. Experts have warned that changing the wording of 18C to remove these terms and replace them with “harrass” will inevitably lead to a large number of new cases as complainants seek to test the law.
When asked about the likelihood that changes to the law would embolden potential offenders to use hate speech and that vulnerable minorities could be damaged, Senator Cormann argued that this was part of the process of legislative reform. “These people should be proud. By being bullied and harrassed they are helping to make Australia a place where bullying and harrassing behaviours are not tolerated.”
Some Coalition MPs are understood to be investigating whether they can bring a lawsuit against Opposition members under the provisions of 18C. “I am offended that Labor is making me out to be a racist just because I want the freedom to mouth off at will about those people,” said one Minister who did not want to be named. “That’s exactly the kind of offensive behaviour these laws are intended to protect against.”
Note: this is a work of satire and should not be taken as news, either real or alternative. Yet.