There is momentum building among coalition back-benchers to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
Since Senator Day proposed the bill in September, it languished in the Senate, with only the express support of co-sponsors Senators Dean Smith, Cory Bernardi of the Liberal Party, and Senator David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party. However, since the new year, and in response to the terror attacks in Paris, France, support of freedom of speech generally, and amending section 18C in particular, have become more pronounced.
In The Australian, Christian Kerr summarises this sentiment presently among Coalition backbenchers, quoting Senator Bernardi who believes that it would be “hard to find more than half a dozen people in our partyroom who don’t believe it is a reasonable measure.”
In particular, Senator Sean Edwards, a Liberal from South Australia, commented that “anything that enhances freedom of speech – which has clearly got some traction around the world now in democracies – should be supported. He similarly gave this forthright defence of freedom of speech in The Advertiser.
As FreedomWatch has maintained, Senator Day’s bill is a step in the right direction to improving the state of free speech in Australia.
In 2013, the centre-right Conservative Party in the United Kingdom, faced a similar issue. A Crossbencher in the House of Lords proposed an amendment to section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986, a provision similar to our own section 18C. There, the proposal to remove the words “or insult” was passed by the Lords, whereupon the government in the Commons gave their own support.
The Abbott government should emulate the example set in the United Kingdom. As the IPA’s Chris Berg notes here, there is still time for the government to act as “freedom’s bulwark”, and to reverse one of the more disappointing notes of 2014.
In October, the IPA released a factsheet explaining the substance of Senator Day’s bill, which you can download here.