'People do have a right to be bigots'
Attorney-general George Brandis defends his position on the racial discrimination act during Senate question time.PT2M40S http://www.canberratimes.com.au/action/externalEmbeddedPlayer?id=d-35dzu 620 349 March 24, 2014
Attorney-General George Brandis has defended the right of Australians to be ''bigots''.
Speaking in the Senate on Monday, Senator Brandis made the case for controversial changes to race hate laws, which News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt was in 2011 found to have breached in relation to two articles he wrote about fair-skinned aborigines.
Senator George Brandis said the problem with the current law was that it dealt with racial vilification in ‘‘the wrong way’’ by ‘‘political censorship’’. Photo: Andrew Meares
The Coalition promised before the 2013 election to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act ''in its current form'', but indigenous Liberal MP Ken Wyatt has threatened to cross the floor to oppose the change.
Senator Brandis told the Senate on Monday he would soon be bringing forward an amendment that would ensure the Bolt case would never be repeated.
''Never again in Australia will we have a situation in which a person may be taken to court for expressing a political opinion,'' Senator Brandis said in response to a question from indigenous Labor Senator Nova Peris.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott was asked about the Attorney-General's comments in question time on Monday. Photo: Andrew Meares
Senator Brandis said the problem with the current law was that it dealt with racial vilification in ''the wrong way'' by ''political censorship''.
''People do have a right to be bigots, you know,'' Senator Brandis said.
"People have the right to say things that other people would find insulting, offensive or bigoted."
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
Asked in the House of Representatives about Senator Brandis' comments, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was ''in the nature of free speech that sometimes some people will not like it''.
''I don't like what members opposite say ... [but] I fully accept their right to say it,'' Mr Abbott said.
Manager of opposition business Tony Burke questioned the relevance of Mr Abbott comparing Labor's language in question time to bigotry.
The Prime Minister said on the question of changing the Racial Discrimination Act, the government would do exactly what it promised to do before the election.
''We will repeal section 18c in its current form," Mr Abbott said. ''This is a government that keeps its commitments and that was a clear commitment that we made.''
Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus said Labor was deeply concerned about the changes the government had planned for section 18C.
''Tony Abbott and Senator Brandis have shown they're not prepared to listen to community groups, experts, or their own MPs, who vigorously oppose the watering down of legal protections against racism,'' he said.
''The government should leave section 18C exactly as it is. It has served our community well for almost 20 years.''
Senator Peris said the Senator Brandis' comments were ''disgusting."
“They are a green light to racism and all other sorts of hate speech.”
“What sort of message does this send to young Australians at a time when we are trying to stop bullying?
“This is an admission that the Attorney General’s changes to the Racial Discrimination Act will allow for unabated bigotry.”