Flat White

The great 18c pigeonholing

31 August 2016

7:26 AM

31 August 2016

7:26 AM

There’s a caricature for opponents of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. They’re supposed to be racists who are just itching to offend Muslims, Asians and Aborigines.

I support the repeal of section 18c so I have been conscripted into this caricature. The thing is, I opposed conscription in the nineteen-seventies, and I oppose conscription now.

So that voters don’t fall for the caricature, let me be clear. The Liberal Democrats have no objections to Muslim Australians.

I oppose restricting immigration on the basis of religion. We must properly screen individuals, not groups, based on their character, criminality and commitment to liberal democratic values. Indeed, there is a strong case for making citizenship conditional on these qualities.

I believe food companies should be free to purchase halal certification, as long as it’s in a free market and not funded by taxpayers.

And I believe Muslim women should be free to wear clothes that cover their face if they wish (although I strongly prefer see the faces of my fellow Australians, because it’s important for building mutual empathy). But I also believe we all have a right to criticize such women for their obvious refusal to integrate and assimilate. To those who want to hurl insults at Muslims, let me be clear. I am not one of you. I do not share your views.

That said, I believe you should be free to hurl your insults, but only so that others can then deliver withering rebuttals for all to hear and learn from. I believe you should be free to hurl your insults, so that others don’t need to reconsider what they say when they want to make more considered contributions to debates on Islam.

I believe you should be free to hurl your insults, because then there would be no need for the speech police, and abolishing their office would then mean we could all get a tax cut.

As I have before, there’s a caricature for opponents of section 18c. They’re supposed to be racists just itching to offend Asians. The Liberal Democrats don’t fit this lazy caricature. We welcome Asians and their impact on Australia.

I voted for the China-Australia Free Trade Agreement, and I’ll vote for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I welcome expanded skilled migration from our region. I welcome investment from China and Hong Kong in Australian agriculture, real estate and infrastructure. And I welcome cheap Chinese steel imports.

Each of these serve to boost the incomes of Australian businesses and workers.

Every party other than the Liberal Democrats has opposed trade, skilled migration or investment from China through their recent actions in this place. So when you’re looking to cast someone as anti-Asian, don’t take the lazy approach of singling out opponents of 18c. Look to those who supported the screening of modest foreign investment in agriculture, including the Coalition and Family First. Look to Senator Lambie and One Nation. But also look to those strident defenders of 18c who just can’t stop dog-whistling about the Yellow Peril — Labor, the Greens and Nick Xenophon.

Some people claim that my opposition to section 18c proves that I don’t value Aboriginals. They assert that Aboriginals need 18c because they are particularly vulnerable to insults. They go on to say this assertion cannot be refuted by white people, because white people don’t know the Aboriginal experience.

The funny thing is, this blanket assertion about the vulnerability of Aboriginals is often made by white people, and plenty of Aboriginals have told me that it’s condescending and counter-productive codswallop.

In fact, the assertion that Aboriginals are particularly vulnerable to insults is insulting to many Aborigines. The excuse for 18c is itself unlawful under section 18c. How absurd.

I have argued against claims that Aboriginal advancement will come from continued race-based handouts, continued encouragement for Aboriginals to remain in dysfunctional remote communities, and continued symbolic gestures. We have generations of evidence proving that this is a prescription for continued disadvantage.

So whenever we hear such groupthink, I suggest we make a complaint to the Human Rights Commission, because it’s hard to imagine an approach that could be more insulting to Aboriginal Australia.

This is an edited version of a speech by Senator Leyonhjelm.

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