Senator DAY (South Australia): Today, I introduce this Bill so that the Senate may have the opportunity to consider this matter.
It is well known that freedom of thought, freedom of belief, freedom of opinion and expression and freedom of the press are fundamental to the rule of law. For the rule of law to function properly, a country’s citizens must be able to observe, comment and critique the existence or non-existence of laws, the making of laws, and the application thereof in the courts system. These freedoms are so critical to the very existence of a strong democracy and an acceptable way of life, they are even recognised in international treaties and conventions to which Australia is both a party and adherent.
At the same time, these freedoms I refer to must be both well coupled, and well balanced with the protection against defamation, racial discrimination and vilification, blasphemy, sedition, obscenity, privacy and public interest.
When the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 was originally passed by Parliament, the intention of the legislation was the prohibition of racial discrimination and, in particular, to make provision for giving effect to the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. However, subsequent amendments to the Act have in fact created a serious imbalance between freedom of speech and racial discrimination. In particular, section 18C of the Act restricts even objective and fair minded opinion and expression.
The amendment proposed by the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill is very minor. It simply removes the words “offend” and “insult”. The other words “humiliate” and “intimidate” remain. If this Bill is passed, the original intention of the Act will be restored, and both freedom of speech and the protection against racial discrimination will be able to co-exist in proper equilibrium. Reasonable Australian people do not support racial discrimination. However, reasonable Australian people do support and defend their very precious freedom of speech, expression and opinion.
These freedoms are so critical to the very existence of a strong democracy and an acceptable way of life. They are recognised in international treaties and conventions, to which Australia is a party. At the same time these freedoms I refer to must be both well coupled and well balanced with protection against defamation, vilification, obscenity, sedition, copyright, commercial confidentiality, contempt of court and national security.
I would like to indicate that I intend to be the person moving conclusion of the debate, not one of my co-sponsors, and further indicate that it is my intention to adjourn debate at the conclusion of the allocated time today so that other senators may have the opportunity to speak on the bill at a later date.