Malcolm Turnbull has gained the support of the Coalition party room on pushing through reforms to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the Australian Human Rights Commission claims handling system. It comes after a pathetic report from the Senate inquiry into free speech in Australia which could not agree on anything as well as the tragic death of cartoonist Bill Leak.
The proposed changes to 18C include removing the words “offend, insult” and “humiliate” and replacing them with the word “harass.” There will also be the introduction of a reasonable person test to determine whether the conduct was in breach of community standards.
This policy should be seen as a pragmatic approach to free speech reform in Australia. Though many Conservatives (myself included) would prefer a full repeal of 18C, the current political climate and Senate composition demand a pragmatic approach. The government has to be mindful of how much political and parliamentary capital it is willing to expend on this reform.
Early reports on the sentiment of cross-bench senators indicate that the reforms to the Human Rights Commission have strong support, but that perhaps only 7 cross-benchers (One Nation, Leyonhjelm, Hinch & Bernardi) support the proposed changes to 18C.
Turnbull has showcased his backbone and political sensitivity and has yet again reminded us that the Liberal party is the party of values – willing to stand up for what it believes in.
Well done Malcolm.