BEN FORDHAM: Lets go to Christopher Pyne and Anthony Albanese. Christopher, good afternoon.
CHRISTOPHER PYNE: Good afternoon Ben.
FORDHAM: Albo, good afternoon.
ANTHONY ALBANESE: G’day.
FORDHAM: Now we’ve got some wild weather in Sydney this afternoon so we are going to keep this nice and brief this afternoon. I know you understand Albo. You know what happens.
ALBANESE: I sure do. It’s been pretty miserable there for a while.
FORDHAM: Trees down and flooding and all sorts of other stuff as well. I will update everyone on that in just a moment.
ALBANESE: Thanks goodness for the SES.
FORDHAM: That’s right. Now let me go to a few things. I’ll do 18C first and then we’ll get to the Omnibus stuff. The Federal Government has got an uphill battle to get its changes to free speech laws through Parliament. George Brandis, the Attorney General, has been blasting the Senate crossbenchers for opposing changes to 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. It was always going to be difficult for Malcolm Turnbull to win over many parts of his party on this one because the Coalition has been split on it. But he’s got the party across the line. Albo, getting the Parliament across the line is a whole other challenge.
ALBANESE: It sure is and look, it’s pretty simple. No-one in the Government can say what they want people to be able to say that they aren’t allowed to say now.
FORDHAM: I can answer that for you. Can I have a go at answering that?
ALBANESE: Yes. Have a crack.
FORDHAM: So we want children who are at the university in Queensland to be able to say on Facebook our university is fighting segregation with segregation …
ALBANESE: But they won that mate. They won that.
FORDHAM: No, but they had their lives turned upside down.
ALBANESE: That’s about process though. That’s not about … and we are prepared to talk about process and things that are, you know, just vexatious should be thrown out …
FORDHAM: We want cartoonists to be able to draw things …
ALBANESE: Yes, and they can.
FORDHAM: … that are going to upset us from time to time.
ALBANESE: And they can and they should and they can.
PYNE: Well Section 18C was never designed to make hurt feelings illegal and that’s what it’s become because it has been twisted and it’s no longer got any credibility and as a consequence we are returning credibility to it …
ALBANESE: But who has been found guilty of any of that?
PYNE: … by making it what it was really about – intimidating and harassing people.
FORDHAM: So who stuffed up the process then Albo? Was it Gillian Triggs, was it?
ALBANESE: Well the Human Rights Commission clearly I think have conceded for example that they made some mistakes there. And take the Bill Leak example – that cartoon or any other cartoon that he did, and he did cartoons that offended just about everyone at various times – that’s what cartoonists do – that’s why 18D is in the law which provides for the media essentially to be able to say what they want in terms of the role that they play.
PYNE: Anthony, why should these students in QUT have been put through the misery of the Federal Court process and the Human Rights Commission process that went on for a very long, not just months, but stretching on to a year or more, that cost them tremendous amounts of money when you admit they should never have been prosecuted in the first place?
ALBANESE: There are lots and lots of vexatious claims made thorough various forms of the legal system. You and I both know that. What you don’t do therefore, what you haven’t done is put forward an argument about the changes to 18C.
PYNE: When the law is broken, the Government’s responsibility, in fact the Parliament’s responsibility, is to fix it and 18C is not doing the job that it was intended to do when your people introduced it when you were in government.
FORDHAM: It has made it easier, surely Albo you will concede this, it has made it easier for people to lodge vexatious claims against one another.
ALBANESE: No. If there is an issue there then it should be fixed and I’ve got no problem …
FORDHAM: Part of the issue is the law.
ALBANESE: No, it’s not. It’s not, and there is nothing; you still didn’t say in terms of what people were able …
FORDHAM: If all you had to establish was that you were offended by it then it makes it easier to lodge a vexatious claim.
ALBANESE: That’s not right. It’s not sort, of, I was offended, full stop. The…
PYNE: That’s what has happened over and over again.
ALBANESE: But it hasn’t happened. No-one has been. Tell me one person who was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act inappropriately.
FORDHAM: Yeah. You can do a lot of damage to someone in the space of two years when they are being dragged through that process. We can’t ignore that.
ALBANESE: And lots of people, as you know, are sued for defamation or sued for lots of things and dragged through processes.
FORDHAM: Yeah well.
ALBANESE: You know that happens and we should try and fix, in terms of processes, to make sure that everything is done that we can to minimise it. But that happens from time to time in terms of the legal system and you can have vexatious claims across a whole range of areas. It happens towards the media from time to time with people making vexatious claims whereby they say they’re going to sue and they send letters and letters go back and they bounce around. But the fact is here, what I don’t understand, and if someone just tells me: I want people to be able to say this, that at the moment is a breach of the law…
PYNE: Yeah. I want people to be able to say why the University of Queensland is fighting segregation with segregation.
ALBANESE: And they could.
PYNE: And not be dragged through two years – two years of Federal Court and Human Rights Commission processes costing them tens of thousands of dollars and costing them their reputation as well. That’s what I want people to be able to (inaudible).
ALBANESE: And they could and that’s about the process, not about changing 18C. But they can. Show me one thing for which people have been found guilty.
FORDHAM: Well the difference between the two arguments here is one says look, it’s the law itself; the other says it’s the process behind the whole thing. But look I think the defence is flimsy here Albo because everyone knows that those kids had their lives turned upside down and that 18C was at the centre of the whole thing.
PYNE: Correct. And even the Racial Discrimination Commissioner now…
ALBANESE: That’s not right. That’s not right. Everyone actually knows if you go and look at the case that there were issues in terms of what happened. I don’t want to re-litigate the whole thing, but there are issues re computers that were available to everyone that were available there. They chose to use the computers that were specifically for indigenous students and then they got into an argument over statements that they made on Facebook.
FORDHAM: Yes, they walked into a room that did not have a sign making it clear that it was for indigenous students. It was an unsigned indigenous-only computer room and, quite frankly, in 2016 or 2017 I don’t like the idea of dividing people up based on race.
PYNE: The point is they weren’t even told that it was an indigenous-only room.
FORDHAM: Oh no.
ALBANESE: I’m not saying that they were guilty of anything, and guess what? The Human Rights Commission agreed they weren’t guilty.
PYNE: Then why did they have their lives ruined?
FORDHAM: Hang on a moment, let’s move on from that and let me finish with this one before I get to some other thunder and lightning. Hang on a moment, hang on a moment. Christopher, are these changes actually going to get through?
PYNE: Well you know we’ve been told many times over the last couple of years that things have got no chance of passing the Senate then we find that they do. So with negotiation, which is what George Brandis will be doing with the crossbenchers, and the work of other senators, I’m hopeful that the Senate will realise that this law needs to be improved, strengthened, made fairer, made more credible. I’m certain that a lot of the process change that we’re putting up – it’s not just a change to 18C – I think they’ve got a fair chance of passage. I think once we’ve had more of the debate, I think the Xenophon team and others will see the sense of this change.
FORDHAM: All right, even smooth-talking George Brandis might even be able to bend Albo’s ear, but I don’t think so.
PYNE: He could talk him around.
ALBANESE: What he can talk to is the, we’re not just talking to one or two, thousands of people who will say that they’ve been subject to racial vilification that has caused them – them – a great deal of hurt. There is violence also from time to time.
PYNE: But that’s all going to be illegal under the new Section 18C. We’re not going to make it legal to be violent against people on the basis of their race.
ALBANESE: I’m not suggesting you are.
FORDHAM: And look thankfully we live in a country where, if that kind of thing goes on in public, and we see it time and time again on trains and buses and everywhere else, if some nut case starts abusing the hell out of someone based on the colour of their skin, Australians tend to step in and do something about it.
ALBANESE: That’s fantastic when it does, but a lot of the time they won’t because there’s no one else around. And anyone, anyone, who has a non-Anglo name in this country …
FORDHAM: Like Albanese?
ALBANESE: Absolutely. I got called a wog when I was a kid, absolutely.
FORDHAM: Mr Albanese, Mr Pyne, we’ll talk to you soon.
ALBANESE: Thank you. Good to talk to you.