Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland


Senator MOORE (Queensland) (16:15): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Attorney-General (Senator Brandis) to questions without notice asked by Senators Dastyari and Kitching today relating to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Excitingly, I rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Brandis to questions asked by Senators Dastyari and Kitching in question time-if we can remember them. In terms of the process, it was very interesting to hear Senator Brandis talk about the deep commitment the Prime Minister has to ensuring that there is equality in our nation and that people will not be harmed by any changes proposed to the Racial Discrimination Act. It was important that that statement was made in this place. But what is really clear is that that statement needs to be understood and made in the wider community.

Since yesterday, when the proposal to change the Racial Discrimination Act was made public, on the international day to prevent discrimination on the grounds of race, we have seen widespread concern about the decision. We expected that there would be a wide range of views on this decision. But those of us who had the honour to be on the human rights committee, which considered over a couple of months the issue of free speech and the Racial Discrimination Act, were taken by surprise at the speed with which the government has now made the decision to implement a change that was not recommended by the committee-if anybody has read that report.

The committee's report is valuable because it is a snapshot of people's opinion on the issue of the Racial Discrimination Act at a point in time. It exposes a wide range of concerns about how we identify free speech in our country. It talks about people's attachment to the proposals that are currently in the act. It talks about issues of administration. Indeed, a number of the recommendations the committee made were on administrative changes to ensure that the act is administered in a more streamlined fashion. We felt that there was a degree of concern and agreement around those administrative changes. One of the absolutely reinforcing processes in that committee was a deep commitment to the concern around making sure our community did not have harm through discrimination on the basis of race. And there was respect for the continuing efforts to ensure, over a number of years, from the time this legislation was originally developed, that exactly how the act would operate came from within the commission itself and also through the legal process. It was reinforcing to see that, in many cases, there was an understanding of exactly what discrimination meant, what caused hurt, what caused offense and what caused harm. That was the core element of the discussions we had over many weeks, in many parts of the country.

There was not genuine, ongoing, complete support for change. There was support for needing to maintain aspects that showed respect on the basis of race throughout our community, but there was not a clamouring for change. There were a number of people who raised issues, and that must be acknowledged. I think it is a good thing that we would take the opportunity to review any legislation, but particularly legislation as sensitive as this.

What we have heard since the Prime Minister put out the cabinet decision to make the change to the act is a deep worry in the community, particularly from those who are concerned about how those with racial differences will be treated by other Australians.

It is important for all of us to stop and think about the people who will be impacted and are impacted by the legislation as it now exists. The voice of any person who feels they have been subjected to racial discrimination should be given special respect because they understand what it is like to feel they have been racially abused. I have not had that experience but, on the committee, I heard from many people who did. The majority of those people-and I say that openly-who felt they had experienced racial abuse or had known people who had been racially abused are deeply concerned about any changes to the legislation. In fact, they would hope that the evidence we receive, which is on record in Hansard, is heard. I hope that senators who are making contributions to this debate will have read that evidence and will know how fearful people are. They are fearful that the act that was designed to protect them and support them will now once again be party to debate in this place and the wider community about ways to change the act-but not necessarily improve it.