The Govt’s Proposed Race Hate Laws Are Dead! Why Did It Take Seven Hours In The Senate?

Yay! But also... what?

Good morning, Australia! If you were hoping to get out there and “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” some people from racial minorities today, you’re going to be sorely disappointed! The government’s proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act were struck down last night.

The Coalition was supported by One Nation, Cory Bernardi, David Leyonhjelm and Derryn Hinch, but it wasn’t enough. The amendment — which would have diluted the nation’s race hate laws by replacing the above three words with “harass” — was defeated in the Senate, with Labor, the Greens, Jacqui Lambie and Nick Xenophon Team voting against it.

This is great news! The proposal to change the law was an exhausting and demoralising endeavour; one which seemed to cater to a few high-profile conservative commentators at the expense of a great number of ordinary Australians. In protest of the government’s support of the measure, people shared their persisting experiences of racism under the hashtag #FreedomOfSpeech last week. Labor’s Tony Burke has described last night’s events as a victory for these people.

“This win will be felt by anyone who has experienced racism and knows that racism is more than just words,” he told Fairfax. “Those who attempted to trivialise the damage caused by racist hate speech should hear this message and find a cause that doesn’t give licence for insults, offence and humiliation.”

Bizarrely, it took the Senate seven hours to reach this result. Attorney General George Brandis argued extensively in favour of the reform during this time, at one point stating he’s felt repeatedly vilified for being white.

“It’s deeply offensive and insulting to suggest that the reason I support this bill is the colour of my skin,” he said. “[It’s] offensive for Senator Di Natale to suggest that ‘older white folk’ support this bill so as to allow them to be, in his words, even more racist than they might otherwise be.”

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young was among those speaking out against the change. Addressing similar statements from Pauline Hanson yesterday (in which she asserted she was not a racist), Hanson-Young said “if you say racist things, people are gonna call you out for it”.

“If you don’t want to be accused of being a racist, don’t say racist things… [The debate on 18C] isn’t about the thought police, this is about basic humanity and decency.”

If you’re wondering how this debate — which has already played out in the exact same way in Australian media for literal years — took nearly a full workday, that is fair! Maybe that seven hours could have been better spent talking about climate change or Indigenous incarceration rates or marriage equality! Maybe that seven hours could have been used to sit down and watch half a season of The West Wing! Those seasons may be long as hell but at least they leave you feeling inspired and productive. At the end of this 18C mess, nothing has actually changed and everyone feels like crap.

Late last night, Labor senator Sam Dastyari accused the government of “filibustering its own bill… so that it can cut a deal on giving big business tax cuts”. “Let’s just be clear what’s going on here,” he said. “It’s 11.30pm — you still don’t have a deal.”

The Senate sitting hours had in fact been extended so two issues could be dealt with: 18C and government cuts to company tax rates. The 18C debate went for so long, the tax cuts didn’t get a look-in, and even with the Senate resuming this morning, things are going slow.

The government is currently trying to secure the support of Nick Xenophon, and Greens Senator Scott Ludlam is now also accusing them of filibustering once again.

At least it’s still illegal to insult and humiliate people because of their race, and Janet Rice has some more time for her knitting! It’s the small victories, hey.