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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2017 Week 03 Hansard (Thursday, 23 March 2017) . . Page.. 1033 ..

In this place earlier this week, we celebrated Harmony Day. Internationally, it was the United Nations Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. The particular focus the UN identified this year was “racial profiling and incitement to hatred, including in the context of migration”; “incitement to hatred”, Madam Speaker.

On that same day, the federal government announced that it will water down Australia’s race hate laws by amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Currently the act states that it is unlawful to engage in acts that are reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race or ethnicity.

The federal government, led by the party of those opposite, is proposing to amend this act in two ways. The first is to replace the words “offend, insult, humiliate” with the word “harass”. According to the federal Liberal Party, it is okay to humiliate someone from an ethnic minority. It is perfectly fine to insult and offend.

The second proposed change is to introduce a new test to be applied in deciding whether 18C has been breached. It is easy to ignore a slight that is not directed at you. While the commentators at the Australian may dismiss the concerns of our multicultural Australians, they are not the ones being insulted, humiliated and offended. Those seeking changes to 18C may see someone being mocked or taunted in the street and dismiss it as a single, unrepresentative incident, but for the woman in the head scarf or the bloke with an accent or of a particular ethnic background, this single slight, this bad afternoon, is one of many bad afternoons. It is just another reminder, another barrier, and another kick in the guts.

This is not an abstract debate for a privileged few. This is about the person on the bus, the student in the tutorial, the worker in the lunch room being intimidated and insulted because of their race. Section 18C, as it stands, makes it clear to all Australians that certain actions are unacceptable. It is a test of our values, a test that the federal government fails badly.

I am sorry to report that the Canberra Liberals are currently also failing this test. On Tuesday, 21 March, on Harmony Day, when the federal Liberals announced their decisions, I called on the Canberra Liberals, including the shadow minister for multicultural affairs and the Leader of the Opposition, to denounce their federal counterparts’ decision. Yesterday I re-tweeted that call. I hope that I will be corrected in this, Madam Speaker, but so far we have failed to find a single instance of the members of the opposition, the Canberra Liberals, criticising their federal counterparts for their decision to water down 18C.

The debate about 18C is a reminder to all of us that speech has a cost. For those affected, words have power. I renew my call for those opposite to stand up for multicultural Canberrans against their federal Liberal counterparts, who are being driven by a small group within their party to take an extremist view, and to denounce the changes to 18C.

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