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Attorney-General George Brandis wants bigots to be allowed to be bigots

Date

Bill Shorten

While George Brandis spent his days arguing that ''people do have a right to be bigots, you know'', the recommendations from security agencies to update our national security laws sat on the shelf.

While George Brandis spent his days arguing that ''people do have a right to be bigots, you know'', the recommendations from security agencies to update our national security laws sat on the shelf. Photo: Andrew Meares

There is no more important task for any Australian government than to protect the safety of our citizens.

No one will ever forget how the Bali bombings struck at the soul of Australia – a place so many of us visit for a holiday became the scene of unspeakable horror.

Australia needs to guard against future acts of terror.

Images of Australians who've travelled overseas to fight for terrorist causes are repulsive and these people should feel the full force of the law.

Our security agencies need the right powers to keep Australians safe.

As technology changes, so do the methods of terrorists – it is important our laws are modernised, with proper oversight and protections for the rights and privacy of 23 million Australians.

To this end, national security should have been – and should always be – the number one priority of Australia's attorney-general.

Unfortunately, from the day Australians put Senator George Brandis in the job, he has spent his energy arguing for the weakening of anti-hate speech laws – to give racists the legal right to be racists.

He has been determined to water down protections in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, giving the green light to hate speech and racism.

For nearly a year, this has been the misguided top priority of the Attorney-General.

This was despite the bipartisan parliamentary joint standing committee on intelligence and security making 43 recommendations to strengthen national security laws back in June last year.

So while Senator Brandis spent his days arguing that ''people do have a right to be bigots, you know'', the recommendations from security agencies to update our national security laws sat on the shelf.

His priority wasn't new national security laws – his priority was to allow the right of bigots to be bigots.

How anyone could think a weakening of protections against hate speech should be a priority, let alone in the national interest, is simply unbelievable.

Section 18C has been used to combat the vilest forms of hate speech – for example, to challenge the infamous Holocaust denier Frederick Toben, who claimed the Jewish community lied about the number of people murdered by the Nazis for their own financial gain.

But right up until Tuesday, Senator Brandis was calling for these safeguards against racism to be watered down.

Labor stood united with the community against these regressive changes from the outset.

The weakening of protections against racism was never in the national interest – they were always divisive and they were always destructive.

The government received more than 4100 submissions on the proposed changes, with the vast majority opposed to its promise to weaken the laws.

This week's backdown from the government is a victory for all the individuals, multicultural and community groups across Australia who fought hard against these changes.

As a community, we have won the argument that bigotry has no place in modern Australia.

Every Australian deserves the right to live free from racial and ethnic vilification – these changes should never have been on the table in the first place.

Racist hate speech has no place in our society and this is proof that the Australian people, uniting behind a cause, can defeat unfairness and injustice.

Having said that, Labor remains very concerned that it's only a matter of time before the Abbott government tries again to weaken protections against racism and bigotry.

This is an embarrassing back down forced on Prime Minister Tony Abbott. He said these changes had ''become a complication we just don't need''. For now.

Tony Abbott says these plans are ''off the table''. But the Prime Minister refused to retreat from his government's view that Australians have a right to be bigots.

He's also the same person who promised no cuts to pensions, no new taxes, no cuts to schools and hospitals before the election – Australians know what this prime minister's word means.

Attorney-General Senator Brandis stands humiliated, not just by his woeful performances this week, but by having been told by his cabinet colleagues that his changes to racial discrimination laws were deplorable.

No doubt they were telling him to get his priorities right – as Attorney-General, Senator Brandis must prioritise national security and the safety of Australians, not divide our country by legalising hate speech.

Bill Shorten is Leader of the Opposition.

65 comments so far

  • If anyone in labor votes to allow abbott&brandis to collect and store all innocent aussies internet and telephone data in the name of 'security' so they can peer through our private business, declaring us guilty until proven innocent I will never vote for them again.

    If the security can't keep an eye on and sniff out so-called future terrorists, who in my experience do not keep their intentions quiet, then perhaps they all need re-training?

    Commenter
    Thanks
    Date and time
    August 08, 2014, 1:03AM
    • If I recall correctly, previous Governments brought in (anti-terrorism) measures allowing us to be locked up for extended periods without saying why and without informing anyone.

      If the authorities get wind of a credible terrorist threat and decide anyone visiting xyz IP address might potentially be involved, they could in theory disappear people for months at a time. I don't trust these (or any other) clowns with that responsibility and I don't trust them not to stuff up. They can keep their hands off our freedoms and our civil rights.

      This is disturbing and dangerous big brother stuff.

      Commenter
      jofek
      Date and time
      August 08, 2014, 3:13PM
  • Labor has said it will oppose the new anti-terror laws on dealing with returning Jihadists and an recent AFP report said that the Gillard govt pretty much ignored the home grown terror threat. Shorten once again is crying crocodile tears over Bali attacks while his party remains opposed to laws protecting the nation, The 18c change was abandoned because Brandis commpletely stuffed up in selling it and it has nothing to do with Shorten or his efforts.

    Commenter
    Regh
    Date and time
    August 08, 2014, 1:43AM
    • The so-called Jihadi threat is overblown and used by repressive governments everywhere to curtail individual rights and freedoms. Most western governments knew full well that these brainwashed freaks were going to Syria since 2011, the alarm was only raised when the Saudi, Kuwaiti and Persian Gulf Petro-despots were threatened by these savage ISIS types who really have no traction even in the Muslim world. The only sensible way of countering these terrorists is via education, inclusion and integration at home and working with like-minded governments in Iran, Syria and Iraq who are at the front-lines of confronting these murderous thugs. Curtailing our rights and falling into the US paranoia police state trap is a victory for terrorists.

      Commenter
      Uncommon sense
      Date and time
      August 08, 2014, 3:00PM
    • "crocodile tears over Bali" that comment is disgraceful and should not have been published

      Commenter
      swagman
      Location
      syd
      Date and time
      August 08, 2014, 3:31PM
    • 100% with UncommonSense!! This whole terrorism issue is a crock that is being sold to us by those who will benefit from ratchetting up the paranoia. Politicians will abuse our rights to privacy in the name of The War on Terror, DSD/ASIO/AFP will want perpetual power creep and funding creep to save us from what??

      The War on Drugs/Crime/Terror campaigns of recent decades have been abject failures and in many instances have exacerbated the problems they seek to deal with. A sure sign of insanity is to keep doing that which is not working and expect a different outcome.

      Commenter
      rustynails
      Location
      theburbs
      Date and time
      August 08, 2014, 4:26PM
    • Are you sure the 18C changes were not withdrawn mainly because the Israel lobby didn't like them?

      Abbott and his crew are just banging the terrorism drum as a distraction, the way Bush and Cheney conveniently elevated the "threat level" when they needed a boost in the polls.

      Commenter
      Squeaky McCrinkle
      Date and time
      August 08, 2014, 4:51PM
    • Regh's comment is proof that "freedom of speech" still exists despite all the hysterical nonsense from Bolt, Brandis and co. His/her comment might be insensitive and ignorant rubbish yet no-one's using 18C to take him/her to court. Unfortunately it's impossible to legislate against stupidity or lies and the internet has more than its share of both.

      Commenter
      Jon
      Date and time
      August 08, 2014, 6:13PM
  • Great to see you writing for Fairfax Bill!

    Just when you thought things couldn't get any worse for the government, they have done it again. It's "a shame" that the first policy decision that I actually agree with was a non-policy - dropping the proposed changes to 18C. It's "shameful" however that the only reason they have dropped it was for purely political reasons.

    I totally agree that the proposals are not really off the table, and I think we all need to beware of this and other dangerous policies being resurrected or proposed over the next few years. Poor Senator Brandis must be feeling a right fool by this stage. Perhaps Labor can join with Adam Bandt and push for his resignation?

    Commenter
    transcend
    Date and time
    August 08, 2014, 1:55AM
    • Shorten is a hypocrite of the highest order....how is his form in abusing taxi drivers and make up artists? Let the real Bill Shorten be seen

      Commenter
      Paul
      Location
      brisbane
      Date and time
      August 08, 2014, 4:48PM

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