#5and5: Week of Racial Discrimination Act attacks

I remember saying that Malcolm Turnbull’s transformation was complete when he had gone full Tony Abbott.

Then he went full One Nation.

This was the week that One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts boasted how happy he was that the Government had started following One Nation’s lead, and Liberal Senator James Paterson said the Government’s decision to water down racial hate speech protections would help win back One Nation votes for the Liberal Party.

1. One of the very first items of business on Monday was Bill Shorten introducing his Private Members’ Bill to protect penalty rates. If this bill passes, people will have their penalty rates protected. Without it, nearly 700,000 workers are up for a pay cut. We didn’t get to vote on the Bill in the Reps but there was a vote in the Senate on protecting penalty rates. Jacqui Lambie and the Greens voted with Labor to protect penalty rates. And the Government, One Nation, Derryn Hinch, Cory Bernardi, David Leyonhjelm voted against. The Nick Xenophon Team didn’t vote. If they’d voted with Labor, we would have won.

2. The fight in the Senate to stop cuts to welfare payments resulted in some extraordinary speeches. Both Katy Gallagher and Jacqui Lambie delivered deeply personal accounts of the challenges faced by people who need the support of government payments to get by. The speeches were impassioned and powerful. When the issue came to a vote these pleas were ignored with the Liberals, Nationals, One Nation, Derryn Hinch, David Leyonhjelm, Cory Bernardi and the Nick Xenophon Team lining up together to impose the cuts.

3. One of the best things we did in Government was deliver education reforms so that every school would have the resources they needed to help every student. The Government has been tearing apart the “Gonski” reforms but the campaign to deliver the resources that schools need won’t go away. On Wednesday, the Australian Education Union brought the Gonski bus to Parliament House, with principals explaining how Labor’s reforms could change the lives of students for the better. After Question Time, Tanya Plibersek spoke about the choice between Labor’s reforms focussing on every child and the Government’s $30 billion of cuts to schools.

4. You may be surprised to read that Scott Morrison was angry this week. Thanks to Jim Chalmers and Nick Champion he became just that little bit angrier. After Scott Morrison gave an answer claiming he had a good record on debt and deficit Jim Chalmers was on his feet with this question:

“My question is to the Treasurer. If a deficit of $11 billion was a budget emergency in the 2014 budget, what does he call a deficit of $37 billion, which has more than tripled on his watch? Given this Treasurer has tripled the deficit, doesn't this just prove that the Treasurer is completely incompetent and hopelessly out of his depth?”

As Scott Morrison wandered forward to the Despatch Box trying to think of an answer, Nick Champion called out,

“How old will Wyatt Roy be before you deliver a surplus?”

5. Despite everything that came from the Government in between, Question Time on Thursday started and finished decently and respectfully. The PM and Bill Shorten opened with speeches about the horrific attack in London and the British High Commissioner was invited into the Chamber to be with us when we all stood together in silence. Then at the end of Question Time, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs stood up and gave an answer about a program to help veterans with mental health issues. Labor’s Amanda Rishworth stood up after the answer and offered Labor’s full support for this important issue.

1. You can’t make this stuff up. Tuesday was the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. In every school it was Harmony Day. And in Parliament House it was the day the Government announced it wanted to change the law to give permission for more racist hate speech.

2. Anne Aly asked the PM what racial speech it was he wanted people to be allowed to say that they couldn’t say now. He responded with the patronising line: “The question is really this...” and then he answered a different question. Anne stood straight back up for the next question and we had this exchange:

ANNE ALY: My question is to the Prime Minister. As someone who has been subjected to racism time and time again as I was growing up and even in my life now, please give me an answer: what exactly does the Prime Minister want people to be able to say that they cannot say now?
MALCOLM TURNBULL: I understand the point the honourable member is making.TANYA PLIBERSEK: You don't; that's the point.

3. No matter which way you look at the Government’s changes to the Racial Discrimination Act they guarantee there will be more racist hate speech in Australia than there is now. After all, how can it be about freedom of speech unless it is going to allow more things to be said? I led a debate on Tuesday about how dangerous these changes are. Mark Dreyfus, Linda Burney, Anne Aly and Peter Khalil spoke and were able to draw on deeply personal accounts of the impact of racism. Linda quoted an awful message that she had received only that morning with these words:

“The previous speaker [...] said that all Australians are decent people. I hope that is true. It is true in the main, but let me read you a tweet that I received this morning [...]. It says: '@LindaBurneyMP: Why are you Abos allowed to harass people for dollars outside grocery stores? You are uneducated drug addicts and disgusting. Change it.' She is talking about 18C. She is talking about what you people are about to try and do [...] People that have never experienced racism cannot possibly stand in the shoes of those that have.”

4. Part of the Government’s strategy on the weakening of the Racial Discrimination Act has been to introduce the bill into the Senate first instead of the House of Representatives. This is a deliberate and calculated scheme to play for One Nation votes while at the same time avoiding their local MPs from having to vote on the issue. It’s an attempt for the Liberals to broadcast one message on the TV and a different message at every community event. Well we didn’t let them get away with that. On Wednesday, Bill Shorten moved a motion which included a specific commitment to keep section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form. No matter what they’ve been saying in their communities, every Liberal and National MP voted against it. And to top it off, just as Bill started his speech Christopher Pyne moved that he be not allowed to speak. So much for freedom of speech.

Photo credit:  Mike Bowers

Photo credit: Mike Bowers

5. This week in the Reps, we nearly finished the speeches debating the Government’s $50 billion handout to big business. The strangest thing is that even though Government backbenchers were standing up one after the other committing to the handout to big business, Scott Morrison wouldn’t commit to it. Now you might think, but isn’t the handout Scott Morrison’s idea? Well the answer is yes. Isn’t it his policy? Well the answer is yes. Wasn’t this the centrepiece of the last Budget and the key to their entire so-called economic plan? Well yes. Will it be in the next Budget? How dare you ask! Chris Bowen pursued this all week, and Scott Morrison found many words, in fact many angry words, but still had no answer to the question.

So next week a series of issues will come to a head. The $50 billion handout to big business should reach the Senate and there will also be debate on whether we should allow forms of racist hate speech that have been considered unlawful for 25 years. On top of these issues, the Government’s submission to the Fair Work Commission on penalty rates is due by 4pm today. None of this will make Australia fairer, but that’s the Government we have, and why we need to change it.

A final message, if you live in Sydney or if you know anyone who lives in Sydney we have the Walk for Respect opposing racism next week on Friday afternoon. It’s not an angry protest, but a celebration of modern multicultural Australia. I hope you, your friends and family can make it along.

I’ll be back in touch next week.


P.S. Chuck Berry died this week and there have been endless tributes from some of the greatest musicians in Australia and around the world. In honour of a Government without an agenda here’s Chuck Berry with “No Particular Place to Go.”

Tony Burke