Subject/s: 18C, Senator Hanson

SENATOR PRATT: Good Afternoon I’m Senator Louise Pratt, the Deputy Chair of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. We are here, I am here with my Labor colleagues and representatives from FECCA and the Aboriginal Legal Service to raise our concerns this afternoon. I am with Senator Pat Dodson from Western Australia and Senator Murray Watt to raise our concerns about the appalling process that has been laid out, to change 18C. We are being forced to do a rushed job in considering legislation, and no one has been consulted. The government is trying to stand behind previous inquires that this Parliament has conducted but nowhere has the community been invited to respond to the new grounds that have been put forward in this Act and as the evidence before our committee already shows there is no broad support for the changes in the words of 18C, to remove offend and humiliate and replace with harassment. We really need to hear directly from the communities affected by racial vilification and discrimination in our nation and today before our committee and those representatives have in part been denied that opportunity to do that.

SENATOR DODSON: Look, this process it’s a shambles, the Aboriginal people have not been given any opportunity to comment on the Bill that there is likely to be a lot of impacts arising from. The whole basis of the discrimination is going to be determined in the future, if this Bill gets up, is going to be based on who the “common Australian community person” is and part of the difficulty with that is that Indigenous peoples are not part of that definition. So that is just one aspect, the access to the Commission is going to be more difficult, while the terminology about harassment is unclear and there has been no opportunity for the Aboriginal people at all to have any input for the Bill and I am glad that we have been able to get a representative from the ACT Aboriginal Legal Service and I’ll ask one of those gentlemen to speak now.

MICHAEL LAWLOR, ACT ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICE: Thank you Senator, the Aboriginal Legal Service welcomes the opportunity to deal with lawmakers on this Bill. We believe that offensive and insulting language takes a special context when dealing with the unique circumstances of Aboriginal people. We’d urge all lawmakers to take into account those special circumstances and if the Senators will permit, I think it is worth knowing that across our country and in all jurisdictions Aboriginal people are remanded in custody on charges of offensive language many of those will be children where there are circumstances of them swearing at police. I think this is something to keep in mind when we continue the debate on what is offensive language and insulting language.

SENATOR WATT: I might just do a quick summary of what we have heard in this morning’s hearing and might raise a couple of issues concerning Senator Pauline Hanson before I hand over to the Federation of Ethnic Communities to speak as well. So what we have seen this morning in the Senate Inquiry is that it has been completely revealed that these changes to the law are not designed to improve freedom of speech, not designed to protect Ethic and Indigenous Australians, but are designed to protect the Prime Ministership of Malcolm Turnbull. What we have seen this morning, at the very start of this morning, Labor Senators again tried to include some Aboriginal voices, in this morning’s proceedings - the program as it stood this morning did not to allow a single representative of Indigenous people in this country to talk about the impact of what these changes would mean for them. That is incredible and is disgraceful that we should be excluding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from this debate, but that is what the government Senators have done this morning. Secondly, what we have seen is that despite claims to the contrary, the Human Rights Commission has made very clear that they do not support the changes being   proposed to section 18C, they support many of the changes to procedures about the handling of these complaints although they don’t even - they have some concerns about those changes. But it is very clear from the evidence that Professor Triggs, that she and the Human Rights Commission do not support any change to 18C despite repeated claims by Senator George Brandis that they do. It is just another example of Senator Brandis lying to the Senate to get his own way politically. The third thing to come out of this morning is very powerful evidence from leaders of Ethnic Communities’ right around Australia about the very real impact that these changes will have on multicultural Australia. We heard evidence that already we are seeing an increase in racism and an increase in racist speech right around the country. So now is not the time to open the door to make it easier for people to be racist in public, that is not the kind of Australia that Labor wants, that’s is not the kind of Australia that all Australians want. Before handing over to Ethnic Communities leaders to speak I want to say a couple of quick things about Senator Pauline Hanson. We have seen this morning that the Prime Minister has rejected many of the comments of Senator Hanson and has said that she is …We’ve seen the Prime Minister say that Senator Hanson will increase the rates of terrorism in Australia. Well, I’ve just got one simple question for the Prime Minister - if he thinks that is true, if the Prime Minister believes that Senator Hanson is a risk to terrorism then why does he keep doing deals with her? The easiest thing for the Prime Minister to do is stop saying he is doing preference deals with Senator Hanson. He will stop all state divisions of the Liberal Party from doing preference deals with Senator Hanson into the future. Talk is cheap, actions are actually what matters, and the Prime Minister should take firm action to stop the deals that he and his party are doing with Senator Hanson. I’ve also seen that Senator Hanson has now said that we should vaccinate against Islam. Now this of course is Senator Hanson, who only two weeks ago was encouraging Australians to not vaccinate their children against real disease and now we’ve got Senator Hanson out there asking for us to vaccinate against imaginary diseases, we’ve all seen that Senator Hanson is very keen on fake news and it seems that she is actually getting into fake diseases now as well. She is desperate; she is under pressure so she is lashing out at multicultural Australia which is exactly what Labor is standing against. I’d now like to handover to the representatives of Ethnic Communities in Australia to comment as well.

DR EMMA DONOGHUE, FECCA: The Federation of Ethnic Communities Council Australia was very pleased to be invited to give evidence to the committee today about the lived experience of racism that many members of our community go through on an everyday basis. We are extremely disappointed that members of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities were not also invited to give their testimony. We had an experience in the committee that let us understand what it might be like to be gagged. We started our testimony, our statement, when we were telling real lived stories about racism the Chairman tried to stop us in our tracks and we continued because these stories are so important in understanding the debate on 18C and that is why the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples must also be heard by the committee and by the public. Thank you for this opportunity.

DIANA RAHMAN OAM, FECCA: I am here today representing Canberra’s multicultural community, as chair of the peak body in Canberra, we have the lived experience, we represent a broad community of over 100 multicultural organisations here in the ACT, from a city that represents and boasts the most multicultural city in Australia even we have had increased levels of racism, vilification, verbal abuse and of course on social media. And today we sat in front of the committee and gave evidence, real tangible evidence, of everyday lived racism and so we also as representing a broad multicultural community in the ACT and the broader ACT we also ask that these proposed changes to the wording do not go ahead because the effect on the ground is real and it is only getting worse.

HARRY OPPERMAN, FECCA: Harry Opperman is my name and I am the Deputy Chair for the Canberra Multicultural Committee Forum and I was pleased to be invited by FECCA to be able to be part of the consultation today. I think there is an enormous misunderstanding on the part of some who are in favour of the changes to the word ‘harassment’ who keep asking and keep suggesting that people choose to be offended. Can I say in the strongest possible terms that people do not choose to be offended, injured or killed, the victims of the 1946 massacre of Aboriginals in Western Australia did not choose to be targeted, the victims of the Stolen Generation, the children stolen from their families, the nine Aboriginal Children removed from a returned Australian inventory force solider under the Stolen Generation did not choose to be removed. These are parts of the misunderstandings of the incredible damage which racism, insults and vilification can do to human beings to all of us as Australians. So we object to the suggestion that ‘harassment’ is an adequate word to replace. I regularly see politicians harass one another in the Parliament but if any politician or any football player on any field uses the words that offend, insult or humiliate they are suspended and action is taken against them. What we are asking for is that those who are the powerless in this society have the power retained to bring a complaint against those that think that polite discourse and civil discourse is acceptable in Australia, it should not be acceptable to all of us. And insult and bigotry should not be acceptable.

SENATOR PRATT: Thank you, any questions?

JOURNALIST: Senator Watt, what would you personally say to Pauline Hanson on this issue of 18C?

SENATOR WATT: On Section 18C? Well I think that Senator Hanson holds herself up as someone who is protecting battlers in our community, she says that she stands up for the poor, she stands up for those that are marginalised in our community but there are many members of our ethnic and Aboriginal communities that are marginalised, so I would have thought if she was serious about standing up for battlers then she would be voting with Labor to stop this legislation from going through.



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