TONY BURKE, MANAGER OF OPPOSITION BUSINESS, SHADOW MINISTER FOR FINANCE: Today we’re in Lakemba for the Walk for Respect. Today is not a day that is about party political events. Today is the community simply saying we want the principle that racist humiliation remains against the law, is something that is above party politics. You’ll find amongst this crowd members of every political party, including the Government’s party, for the very simple reason that the changes that are being proposed to the Racial Discrimination Act, no matter which way you look at them, involve a situation where Australia would have more racist hate speech than we have at the moment.
This is a community that says we don’t want that and I want to thank everyone for coming from around Sydney, and indeed even as far afield as Melbourne with Mark Dreyfus to be a part of it today. I’ll ask Mark and Michelle to say a few words and then we’ll have some quick questions, because we’ve got a walk we’ve got to do.
MARK DREYFUS, SHADOW ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Thanks very much Tony. The crowd we’ve got here today, the thousands of people that have turned out shows something we’ve already known for months and months that Australians do not want change to Section 18C. The message we’re going to send today is that it is not too late for Tony Abbott and George Brandis to abandon their plans to water down the protections against racist hate speech that we’ve got in our law.
These are laws, which have served Australia very well for almost 20 years. The Government has not made out its case for why they need to be repealed and we are calling on the Government, everyone here, is calling on the Government to stop now, to abandon your plans to water the protections that serve Australians. Michelle.
MICHELLE ROWLAND, SHADOW MINISTER FOR CITIZENSHIP AND MULTICULTURALISM: I’d like to thank everyone, all the member of the community for coming out here today, people from just about every community group and again as Tony said, nearly every political persuasion. But this is not about politics, this is about the face of multiculturalism in Australia and what we want Australia to be.
The fact that so many people in our community have united to support retaining the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form, and these are people who are the most likely to be adversely affected by the changes that are proposed by the Government, this says a lot about Australia, this says a lot about the Australia that we want it to be in future. A place where everyone is welcome, where people can grow up free of racist hate speech. So I congratulate Tony and all the organisers and I want to acknowledge our parliamentary colleagues who are here, including Julie Owens and Jason Clare, and especially everyone who has come out here today to make a statement about multiculturalism and freedom from racist hate speech in our society.
BURKE: Just before we go to questions, just because we’ve got John Robertson here, I might just ask him to say a couple of words before we go to questions.
JOHN ROBERTSON, NSW LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Today is a day that highlights the shame of the Abbott Government. A Government that seeks to unleash hate speech and bigotry. Our nation is a nation founded on the principles of multiculturalism, founded on the principles of free speech, but with that comes responsibility. We are not a nation of haters. We are a nation that embraces all. Our nation’s contemporary history is very much about embracing all those who come from so many different cultures to live here, to live harmoniously and peacefully in our community, to make this nation the great place that it is. We are a nation that is a beacon when it comes to the success of our multiculturalism and for the Abbott Government to even contemplate such a change is unforgiveable.
What you see today is a reflection of the whole of our community coming out making their voices heard in no uncertain terms, that we do not support these changes, that we will not accept a piece of legislation being introduced simply to deal with lazy journalism. We are a nation that embraces multiculturalism, we should all feel very proud of the success of our multiculturalism and we should all stand strongly today and into the future to condemn this Government, to condemn Tony Abbott and George Brandis for contemplating such a change.
REPORTER: Tony Burke, do you want Bronwyn Bishop to stand down?
BURKE: I’ve seen the reports overnight about what Bronwyn Bishop has allegedly done in using her office effectively as providing a free venue to the Liberal Party. I’m waiting to see whether or not Bronwyn Bishop herself confirms these reports. Be in no doubt, if the Speaker is using the resources of that office for party political purposes her position is untenable. Now I am waiting for her to come forward and explain whether or not she is the first Speaker to have breached this principle, which has been longstanding.
REPORTER: Her spokesperson says that she has.
BURKE: I’ve read that, I am waiting for her to come forward. If it is true her position is untenable.
REPORTER: Why does Labor support the deficit levy?
BURKE: Labor’s position remains that when it was at $80,000, the increase in income tax, we were easily saying that’s a major issue and we had a priority to knock it out. Now that it’s at $180,000 it is simply not the same priority as it was and that’s why we’re focusing on other issues.
REPORTER: Has Shadow Cabinet agreed to this?
BURKE: I’ve given the answer that I’m going to give for today.
REPORTER: [inaudible]…18C in the Senate. Have you started speaking with the cross-benchers?
BURKE: There is no principle of negotiations from our perspective. Our perspective is the changes are wrong. Simple as that, the changes are wrong. The Labor position is absolutely clear on that. Mark, do you want to add to that?
DREYFUS: I can say that of course we’ve been in discussion with not only the existing cross-bench Senators but the incoming cross-bench Senators. I’m not going to reveal those discussions, but they’ve been so far very respectful and fruitful discussions and I’d be very hopeful that in new Senate any change to 18C would be blocked as well.
REPORTER: Does it mean you’re confident that it will be blocked?
DREYFUS: I am very hopeful that in the new Senate that any change that’s put forward, and I don’t yet know if the Abbott Government are going to proceed with it – they should actually abandon what they’re doing – but if they go forward I am hopeful it’ll be blocked in the new Senate.
REPORTER: Mr Burke what do you think Australia should be doing to help in Thailand as the situation there escalates?
BURKE: On Thailand, I’ll defer that to Tanya Plibersek to speak on behalf of the party.
Okay, we’ve got a walk to start, thank you very much.