The Turnbull governments plan to amend section 18 C of the Racial Discrimination Act has failed to attract a majority of crossbench senators.
Nick Xenophon and his colleagues will vote with Tasmanian Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie, the Greens and the Labor party to strike down the amendments.
For sometime, sections of the Liberal party have been advocating for changes to the Act which would see the words offend and insult removed from the legislation and replaced with harass. The word ‘humiliate’ was also originally set to be removed but has now lost support from within the government, as reported by the Sydney Morning Herald.
Earlier this week Labor’s Dr Anne Aly, an Egyptian born Australian, asked the Prime Minister in question time “As someone who has been subjected to racism time and time again – as I was growing up, and even in my life now -please give me an answer, what exactly does the Prime Minister want people to be able to say that they cannot already say now?” Dr Aly asked. The Prime Minister responded by saying the inference that those supporting changes to 18 C were racist was deeply offensive.
In the Senate the ALP tried the same tactic with their Northern Territory Senator Malarndirri McCarthy asking “What insulting, offensive or humiliating comments does the Prime Minister think people should be able to say to me?,” she said. The personal nature of the argument seemed to strike a cord with the public and led to famous Australians with culturally diverse backgrounds taking to Twitter to share their experiences of racism.
Writer Benjamin Law started the Freedom of Speech hashtag with his personal account:
At the age of 10, I was at the local pool as a group of white boys held my head underwater, laughing at me for being Asian.
Senator Lambie summed up the feelings of many when she tweeted:
Tasmania is worried about jobs & how they to put food on the table. Not how they can get away with offending someone.
Many Indigenous and ethnic community groups have come out supporting the current legislation and see no need for the amendments.
The bigger question here is why is the government is using up so much of its political capital, of which it does not have much if any to spare, on legislative changes a lot of Australian do not see as being a problem to begin with, if they understand what the legislation actually says and does to begin with. It seems to be driven more on ideology than need.
However Liberal Senator James Paterson speaking in several media interviews about this issue provided an insight as to why this matters to the government saying that it would stop frivolous cases from getting to court under the current Act, booster peoples rights to free speech and help the government win back some of the voters it is losing to One Nation, who vote for them because they see political correctness going too far.
Currently the government does not have the numbers to pass the amendments but does have the political will within the party to see it continue to be an issue they advocate for – even if its to their detriment publicly.