Attorney-General George Brandis: “Cabinet decisions… are collective decisions and the decision to release this exposure draft was the collective decision of the cabinet.” Photo: Andrew MearesAttorney-General George Brandis says cabinet made a collective decision to release an exposure draft on changes to race hate laws, but has not denied that he was forced by colleagues to water down his original proposal.
And he has played down suggestions that he was at loggerheads with Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs – who has criticised the government’s proposed changes – and NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell, who disagreed with Senator Brandis’s suggestion this week that people have the right to be bigoted.
Mr O’Farrell declared on Thursday that vilification on the grounds of race or religion is ”always wrong”.
Fairfax Media revealed on Thursday that Senator Brandis was forced to soften his original proposal to loosen constraints on racist insults and hate speech in a lengthy cabinet meeting on Monday night.
The Attorney-General was obliged to settle for only a draft exposure bill. This allows the government position to remain fluid and community groups to react. The changes proposed to the Racial Discrimination Act in an exposure draft released to the government party room on Tuesday contained a weakening of Senator Brandis’ original proposals.
The outcome represented what one minister described as a compromise between the conservative and moderate factions. One minister said: ”George has really drunk the right-wing Kool-Aid.”
Another minister said Mr Brandis’ original proposal was ”much worse” than the agreed text and he had been forced to back down.
‘Cabinet decisions are collective decisions’
Pressed in the Senate on Thursday, Senator Brandis said it was a “matter of public record that the cabinet had a discussion about this matter on Monday. You would know and you would not expect me to reveal cabinet discussion”.
“Cabinet decisions… are collective decisions and the decision to release this exposure draft was the collective decision of the cabinet.”
Senator Brandis said Mr O’Farrell’s comments were a “very measured contribution to this debate”.
“I agree with them, and I particularly agree with what Mr O’Farrell said when he said, if I may quote him, when he said ‘vilification on the grounds of race or religion is always wrong. There’s no place for inciting hatred within our Australia society’.”
And he welcomed Professor Triggs’ differing view on the proposed changes.
“The fact that there are a variety of views in the HRC is itself relevant to the fact that we are having a debate in the community about where the line should be drawn between the two goals that I suspect everyone in this chamber subscribes too,” he said.
“On the one hand protecting freedom of speech and freedom of public discussion and on the other hand protecting racial minorities from vilification.
“It’s the government’s view that the fact that there are a variety of opinions about how best to arrive at the twin objectives which we all share is a good thing, not a bad thing.”
Victoria, NSW raise concerns with proposed changes
Opening a Museum of Sydney exhibition documenting the history of the Chinese community in Sydney on Thursday, Mr O’Farrell said the work was important because of ”issues that are happening at the federal level”.
”In commendably seeking to protect freedom of speech, we must not lower our defences against the evil of racial and religious intolerance,” he said.
”Bigotry should never be sanctioned, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Vilification on the grounds of race or religion is always wrong. There’s no place for inciting hatred within our Australia society.”
Victoria’s Multicultural Affairs Minister, Matthew Guy, has also questioned the proposed changes, telling the State Parliament the Coalition government would formally raise its concerns with the Commonwealth.
“I am concerned there may be some harmful and unintended impacts upon our community should the exposure draft as it stands be enacted,” Mr Guy said.
Senator Brandis made his ‘bigots’ comment this week in response to criticism by Labor of the federal government moves to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
It was used to prosecute News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt over an article he wrote attacking ”fair-skinned” Aborigines.
Under questioning from Labor Senator Nova Peris, Senator Brandis said: ”People do have a right to be bigots, you know. In a free country, people do have rights to say things that other people find insulting or offensive or bigoted.”
But Mr O’Farrell said Australians ”enjoy a history as a state and a nation of which we can be overwhelmingly proud”.
”But we must never forget that includes appalling examples of the consequences of intolerance and hatred,” he said.
”No government, no organisation, no citizen can afford to be less than vigilant in combating bigotry, intolerance and hatred. And frankly, our way of life depends on that vigilance.”
The exposure draft released has proposed section 18C, which makes it unlawful for someone to act in a manner likely to ”offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity, would be repealed while section 18D, which provides protections for freedom of speech, will be removed and replaced by a new section.
The changes remove the words ”offend, insult and humiliate”, leave in ”intimidate” and adds the word ”vilify” for the first time.
But a passage in the exposure draft that exempts words and images “in public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter”, has attracted a storm of criticism for being too broad and weakening current protections.
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This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.