The Senate has defeated proposed changes to the language of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in a late-night session.
The Government’s proposal had been to alter the language constituting what could be considered an race-based offence, replacing the uses of the words “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” with the term “harass”.
The move has been described as “filibustering” by Labor, who accused the government of softening its stance on racial discrimination while trying to cut a deal on cutting taxes for big businesses.
“Let’s just be clear what’s going on here – the Government is filibustering on its own law about watering down race hate laws so that it can cut a deal on giving big business tax cuts,” said Labor Senator Sam Dastyari to the session last night. “It’s 11.30pm – you still don’t have a deal.”
The proposed business tax cuts had been the other item on the agenda for the extended Senate session called by the Federal Government, but the issue was never discussed, as the session was ended just after midnight.
The proposals to Section 18C have been described as a softening of racial discrimination laws, yet Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has vehemently denied this accusation.
“We are strengthening the race hate laws. These are stronger laws, more effective laws, because they are clearer laws,” the Prime Minister said last week.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus described the Prime Minister’s defence of the changes “simply nonsense”.
After the debate last night, Shadow Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Australia Tony Burke echoed Dreyfus’ sentiment by pronouncing the debate “a big win for modern multicultural Australia”.
“For those people who thought allowing more forms of hate speech was a good idea, the Australian Parliament has said no to them,” Burke said.