The Abbott government is facing calls to bolster free speech in Australia in response to the massacre at French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo by Islamist terrorists.
A day after world leaders joined two million people marching through Paris in support of peace and freedom of expression (Recharge Online), key government and cross bench senators renewed demands that the government fulfil its abandoned pre-election promise to wind back protections in the Racial Discrimination Act.
The current law allows for the prosecution of people who espouse views that “offend, insult and humiliate” on racial and ethnic grounds – most notably conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, seo services who was sued in 2011 by a group of light-skinned Aborigines for suggesting they were not genuine Aboriginal people.
On Monday, Liberal senator Cory Bernardi said the government had been “bullied” out of amending the act, while NSW crossbencher David Leyonhjelm said theCharlie Hebdo atrocity should be a “wake up call to anyone who thinks you can have a little bit of free speech”.
He said preventing free speech through legal means and “Islamist pricks shooting journalists” were very different things but “two sides of the same coin” nonetheless.
In response to a public outcry led by ethnic groups, the government abandoned plans to amend Section 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act last year, saying it was more important to have the Muslim community on “Team Australia” and on side with tougher anti-terror laws.
Acting Prime Minister Warren Truss on Monday ruled out any renewed move to change the law.
“We should be bold and speak out about the things we want to speak out about but we can do that without changing section 18C. The government’s come to a decision in relation to that issue and we’re not proposing to change.”
But the outpouring of sympathy for the staff of Charlie Hebdo will give new impetus to a private member’s bill co-sponsored by Senator Leyonhjelm, crossbencher Bob Day, Senator Bernardi and his fellow Liberal Dean Smith which would largely effect the changes the government shied away from implementing.
The matter has once again split the Human Rights Commission, with Commissioner Tim Wilson, a Liberal appointee, backing Senator Bernardi’s push.