PM kicks fundamental liberty “into the long grass”

Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull, 17 May 2015:

[T]here was a broad consensus among lots of interested groups and stakeholders that the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ could be removed [from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975], leaving the words ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’.

… I was very comfortable about that. I didn’t think that would have any negative impact.

Prime Minister Turnbull in parliament today, on whether he stood by those comments:

… Mr Turnbull said he backed debate on the issue but would not be reopening the matter.

“I think it’s very important for debates of this kind to be undertaken at the right time and place and in the right context… We have to bear in mind that we have in our society, as in all free societies, to balance the demands of free speech, of which we’re all in favour, with also ensuring domestic harmony.

“The short answer to your question is the government has no plans to change the Racial Discrimination Act at all.”

So much for the “broad consensus”. Ultimately, actions – or lack thereof – have consequences, as the IPA’s executive director John Roskam points out:

Free-market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs took out full-page advertisements condemning Mr Abbott’s decision to ditch his election promises [to repeal section 18C]. John Roskam from the IPA warned Mr Turnbull to expect another backlash from his own party.

“Malcolm Turnbull must realise just how significant freedom of speech is to so many people in Australia and to so many in his party,” he said.

“He can’t kick fundamental liberties into the long grass without consequences.”

Latika Bourke has more coverage here.

UPDATE: The prime minister’s full response is on hansard here.

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