My Sunday starts watching the Wallabies take on Wales. My boys and I are transfixed by the gutsy display of Moore and Cheika’s men. As someone who’s watched more League than Union, I find it strange that I can take so much pleasure in the success of the Wallabies scrum. Holding on with seven men (giving up 100kg) in the scrum, and six in the backline has to be one of the great defensive efforts ever by a Wallabies team. The only thing which tops the Wallabies’ defence is the cuteness of my youngest daughter, two year old Grace. She wanders in to the lounge room, snuggles under the doona next to her brother William and announces ‘I sitty you’. Seriously cute!
At Mass our newly arrived African priest has a sermon (not surprisingly for a Catholic priest) on social justice. What is a little surprising is the focus. Father tells us that what Australia is doing in accepting 12,000 refugees from Syria is a wonderful act of generosity, but what makes Australia’s effort special is that we are also attacking the root cause of the problem, the evil of Isis. He says this is true social justice. Very wise.
Sunday night Coalition Members and Senators are invited to a BBQ with the new Prime Minister at Parliament House, only, there’s not a sausage, steak or chop in sight. In the first but not last example for the week of class warfare, one wag declares that this is a ‘Wentworth BBQ’. Harsh. I thought it was a nice simple spread perfectly appropriate for the occasion.
As I start the sitting week on a typically beautiful Canberra day, I turn my mind to Senator Bob Day’s Bill which would remove the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. I reflect on my experience growing up in a large Croatian Australian family with the name Zdenko Seselja. I contemplate the importance of free speech and the meaning of language. My uncle was imprisoned by the communists in Yugoslavija for speaking his mind and practicing his religion. Here in Australia, the word ‘wog’ was thrown at people like me, sometimes with some venom, yet was turned around by southern Europeans as a symbol of defiance. It was also turned into comedy with shows like Wogs out of Work and Acropolis Now. I wonder whether dragging someone to court for calling me a ‘wog’ would have improved things.
Tuesday morning I miss the regular basketball game with my friends Ed Husic, Michael Sukkar (both excellent players) and others and instead spend 30 minutes of precious time with my wife Ros playing with Grace. Grace is in a particularly good mood and I’m reminded of the blessing that it is to be in Federal Parliament and living in Canberra, giving me more time with the family. If I had been banging bodies with Ed we may have done some of our usual gags about the boys from the Balkans being hot-headed and ready for a stoush. I wonder if someone would have been offended!
I read Dom Perrottet’s essay on Tony Abbott. A very balanced piece from a man who will go a long way in conservative politics and Australian political life.
On Thursday I get to my feet in the Senate and announce I will cross the floor and vote in favour of Senator Day’s 18C Bill. I’m joined by some Liberal colleagues. Essentially my argument is this – free speech is foundational to a free society and any curbs on it should be rare and thoroughly justified. My family saw how oppressive regimes police speech in order to silence dissent. Racism and bigotry are disgraceful, but the law can’t stop what is in people’s hearts, particularly the more subtle examples which are more pernicious (the SA Labor election ad ‘can you trust Habib?’ is one disgraceful example). The subjective nature of being offended makes the current law particularly problematic. We are better off settling our differences with debate, dialogue and even humour, as Nick Giannopoulis showed. Finally I make the point that my vote is in keeping with the promise that the Coalition took to the 2013 election. The responses to my speech come in thick and fast. On email, the response is overwhelmingly positive, less so on Facebook. The main downside with crossing the floor is the potential internal reaction. Of the many party members who respond to my email on the day, only one is negative. He asks if my position is based on my being a ‘fundamentalist Christian’. I politely respond telling him that freedom of speech is a universal value, and that my view happens to be shared by other ‘fundamentalist Christians’ such as Julian Burnside QC!
Interview on PVO goes pretty well, dealing with 18C and Labor’s class war attack. I point out how obvious it is that Labor’s Cayman Islands attack is about distracting from Bill Shorten’s serious problems at the Royal Commission. On ABC Drive with Jonathan Green, I get a reasonable run. He asks if the floor crossing on 18C is the conservatives poking Malcolm Turnbull in the eye. I point out the PM’s stated support for the change, and mention Julian Burnside again. It’s difficult for the ABC to argue with Julian Burnside. Green then asks me about the Adani coal mine approval, and suggests the moral thing to do would be to leave the coal in the ground. I point out the immorality of letting hundreds of millions of people in India continue to live without electricity, and Green’s moral point doesn’t seem as strong.
The week ends with Malcolm Turnbull destroying Bill Shorten in QT, suggesting he go and acquire a sandwich board to make his class warfare attack. I’m left imagining the Opposition Leader with a sandwich board on the front saying ‘Malcolm is rich’, and perhaps on the back saying ‘I don’t recall’. Offensive, perhaps, but funny nonetheless!
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