National: Turnbull Says Cabinet May Consider Changes to Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act 18C

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has indicated that his cabinet is considering an inquiry into freedom of speech in relation to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, a backflip from his August statement that the Government had “much more pressing priorities”.

Section 18C makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” people based on their race or ethnicity.

Turnbull said the Coalition conservatives’ calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the issue had “considerable merit”.

“There is a view that the bar that is set is too low, in other words, that proscribing conduct which insults and offends is too much a restriction on free speech,” Turnbull told ABC Radio on Monday.

Turnbull also called for the Human Rights Commission to “urgently review” the way it handles section 18C complaints after a Brisbane judge dismissed a case against three Queensland students.

The students were accused of social media vilification of an Indigenous officer on campus.

“What it shows is that the Human Rights Commission must urgently review the way in which it manages these cases,” he said.

“To have a case like that – which will have involved the expenditure of considerable Commonwealth money, taxpayers’ money, considerable money on behalf of the students, imposed enormous stress on them – and have it chucked out, struck out as having no reasonable prospects of success, what the court was saying, what the judge was saying to the Human Rights Commission is, ‘You’ve been wasting the court’s time. You’ve been wasting government money.'”

A number of Coalition politicians have voiced their support for an inquiry.

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi tweeted, “It’s about time, but the real question is why it has taken so long? The abuse of 18C has been evident for years.”

Liberal backbencher Andrew Hastie said while the Government would like to protect minorities, it also sought to defend “one of the most important elements of democracy, which is free speech”.

The opposition has criticised Turnbull’s backflip. “The Prime Minister is willing to trade race hate protections to protect himself from his backbench,” said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten.

National: Barnaby Joyce Accuses ALP of Communism

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has accused the Labor party of “communism” in a speech at the National Farmers’ Federation Congress in Canberra.

Joyce said foreign ownership was a threat to patriotism, and that Labor’s policies, including native vegetation management, would result in “dispossession” and therefore communism.

“I thought about how Labor dispossess people of their private assets with tree-clearing guidelines – ‘vegetation management’ as it’s euphemistically called,” Joyce said.

“This essentially took away ownership from private individuals and gave it to the community. The dispossession of the individual for the community benefit, without the community paying for it.

“While I was marking my 184th lamb that I’d just picked up, I thought, ‘there’s a word for this — it’s called communism’.”

Joyce closed his speech by repeating his statement on opposing foreign ownership of agricultural land. “It’s the whole essence of patriotism, the love of one’s country is best delivered when you own that country,” Joyce said.

“The love of one’s country is best delivered when you own that country. I may like your car but I love mine. Likewise, I find your house very interesting but I want to go home to mine … And believe me, there’s one thing that people are not keen to do and that is die for a rented country.”

When asked whether his speech was too harsh given the presence of Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye in the congress, Joyce told ABC, “China more than anybody is moving towards a market economy. Ever since (former leader) Deng Xiaoping decided that was the direction they should go, they’ve been exceptionally good at it and private ownership fundamentally underpins your attachment to an asset.

“I love the fact that if my daughters want to, they can go on to the farm that I bought – that’s my aspiration, that’s what makes Australia a great place, and it does build up this idea of patriotism – the love of the earth that you stand on because your indelible connection to it and I’m sure a lot of indigenous Australians would agree with me as well.”

Labor’s Shadow Minister for Agriculture, Joel Fitzgibbon said Joyce’s populist statement on foreign ownership “is a zero sum game”.

“Overcoming those challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities will take new thinking, hard work and co-operation,” Fitzgibbon said.

“And it will require all of us to spend more time talking in positive rather than in negative tones.”