17 Aug An insult to back away from vow
Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott recently mused over his decision while in power to give up on repealing Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
This makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” on the basis of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”.
Critics, including Abbott, have long argued that 18C is a barrier to free speech.
“Perhaps the cause of free speech would have fared better if my government’s initial bid had been merely to drop ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ while leaving prohibitions on the more serious harms,” Abbott said.
The former PM lamented that there was now “no real prospect of change” to the law.
He may have spoken too soon.
Since Abbott’s remarks, a number of 18C opponents have spoken out. Some Liberals are among them.
“My assessment is we are only one or two votes away from where we need to be in the Senate and the right bill, well-crafted, with the right approach, has a very good prospect of passing this parliament,” new Liberal senator James Paterson said this week.
“The Prime Minister has spoken about his support for freedom of speech in the past. He has said that he would be quite comfortable with a bill … which does take out insult and offend from the act, so I think it’s a question of him taking up the mantle and leading on this.”
Adding a degree of tension to the issue are claims, exclusively revealed in The Daily Telegraph, that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committed to repeal 18C ahead of his successful leadership challenge last year.
In order to lock in support from pro free-speech MPs, they were given assurances that Turnbull would act against the legislation.
This places Turnbull in an awkward position, to say the very least. He cannot risk destabilising the government, but nor can he turn away from his previous commitment.
It’s the most exciting time to be an Australian Prime Minister.