The Government Is Unlikely To Weaken Race Hate Laws Because It Won’t “Create Jobs”

A good decision supported by an incredibly bizarre rationale.

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There’s been a bit of a concerted push lately from the hard-right of the Liberal party and some Senate crossbenchers to reform Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The eclectic grouping of grumpy old white men think it’s just too hard to be racist at the moment, and they want the law changed to make it easier. But senior government figures seem less keen on watering down Australia’s race hate laws, because it won’t “get one more extra person in a job”.

Section 18C makes it unlawful for someone to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” another person, or a group of people, on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin. According to the federal Racial Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphomassane, “Before the Act was introduced there was little that people could do in response to experiencing racial discrimination. The law was not on the side of many victims of discrimination, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Act makes racial discrimination unlawful.”

Conservatives have never really liked 18C because they think it impinges on freedom of speech. But it wasn’t until Andrew Bolt was successfully sued in 2011 that a co-ordinated push to weaken it, or remove it altogether, really gathered steam. Bolt was sued over two articles he wrote where he implied Indigenous Australians with light-skin only identified as Indigenous for personal gain.

Since Bolt lost his court case, right-wingers like Tony Abbott, Cory Bernardi and David Leyonhjelm have been agitating for 18C to be amended. Bernardi has already announced he will introduce a bill to remove “offend” and “insult” from the Act, meaning someone will only be acting unlawfully if they humiliate or intimidate another person based on their race. Pauline Hanson, Derryn Hinch and Family First’s Bob Day also want 18C weakened or removed altogether.

Ultimately the final decision on what to do is in the hands of the government. And while Tony Abbott was keen on amending the law when he was Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull seems less interested. This morning he said, “With all due respects to the very worthy arguments surrounding it, it is not going to create an extra job or … build an extra road. It’s not a priority for us.”

Which is both true, and a very weird argument for opposing a change to race hate laws. Is he implying that if it did create jobs somehow he would be more keen on the idea? Scott Morrison ran a similar argument yesterday saying, “It doesn’t help me to reverse the deficit, it doesn’t help me pay back the debt, it doesn’t help me get one more extra person in a job and it doesn’t lead to one extra company investing more in Australia, so you can appreciate that it is not at the top of my list.”

So there you have it Australia, we’re likely to retain our race hate laws because abolishing them won’t create jobs or reduce the deficit. A good decision supported by an incredibly bizarre rationale.