Senator DAY (South Australia): Let me start with a quote:
“… tolerance is displayed in upholding the right of people to express views with which I disagree. A tolerant society is one prepared to uphold the precious right of free speech, provided such speech does not intimidate or incite the injury of others.”
No, it is not JFK, not LBJ, not even FDR but our very own senator from Western Australia JWB—Joseph Warrington Bullock. I could not have said it better myself. I agree that no-one should be obnoxious, that no-one should be rude or insulting or offensive, but should these things be outlawed?
The Australian people own our language, not us. A few moments ago, Senator Smith gave us a real-world example of how things should work, proving the Australian people are the umpires of what is and what is not acceptable. The Australian people have delegated to us the responsibility to protect them from harm, from intimidation and from incitement to hatred, which can cause others, mobs, to inflict harm—and rightly so. They have not, however, delegated to us the right to decide who should or should not be offended. Regulating for what is essentially the hurt feelings of a reader or a hearer is altogether different to racial vilification and incitement to hatred, which is not in contention. It is not our role to regulate free speech; it is society’s.
Freedom of speech is not some niche issue; it is an essential foundation of democracy. I have noticed that Edmund Burke gets quoted a lot in this place. One of the things Mr Burke said was: ‘It is the duty of parliamentarians to teach the public that which they do not know.’ Removing words like ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the Racial Discrimination Act is not hate speech. It is not incitement to hatred. Those new Australians who have escaped tyranny and settled here should celebrate the freedom they have to express themselves without being hauled off to court. I would urge senators who have constituents who do not fully understand these things to explain it to them. Teach them that which they do not know. Tell them that they may have found themselves in court in their former country for insulting or offending someone but that that will not happen to them here.
Earlier this month we commemorated 100 years since the commencement of World War I—the Great War. We heard many times of the sacrifice of those who died in the cause of freedom. I did not come to Canberra to defend free speech. I came to help every family to get a job and own a home, but sometimes when you are on a journey something happens along the way that requires you to stop what you are doing and lend a hand. This is one of those occasions. The Racial Discrimination Act cannot be left as it is. It contains a flaw which must be corrected. The words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ must be removed.
I started with a quote from a great Labor figure. Let me conclude with a quote from a great Liberal figure, none other than the founder of the Liberal Party himself, Robert Menzies:
… if truth is to emerge and in the long run be triumphant, the process of free debate – the untrammelled clash of opinion – must go on.