CANBERRA -- What a way to spend National Harmony Day and the "International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination".
The Turnbull Government is divided on the issue, but is pushing a fresh proposal, which passed Cabinet on Monday, to water down Australia's rate hate laws.
This is despite warnings, including from within the Coalition and virtually all opinion polls, that the general population would like the government to concentrate on just about anything else.
@vanOnselenP yes, we support harmony by ensuring all ppl should be equal before the law— Tim Wilson MP (@timwilsoncomau) March 20, 2017
It seems the push to amend the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) is truly on. So the question (after why now?) then becomes: Is Malcolm Turnbull about to break an election promise?
So we can't have a marriage equality vote because that would break an election promise, but can break an election promise not to change 18C?— Stephen Spencer (@sspencer_63) March 20, 2017
The Huffington Post Australia's review of Turnbull's language when discussing 18c reveals a lot of wriggle room.
You'll read he had "no plans" to amend 18c, which very likely meant no "current" plans.
"The short answer to your question is: the government has no plans to change the Racial Discrimination Act at all."
Question Time – 20 October 2015
PRIME MINISTER: There's a longer discussion about the wording of 18c but there are no plans to make any changes to it. OK, thank you.
Doorstop – 5 February 2016
PRIME MINISTER: Well no, it's not a priority. With all due respects to the very worthy arguments surrounding it, it is not going to create an extra job. It is not going to ensure that your listeners are going to get to work or get to school, or get around their business sooner. It's not going to build an extra road.
3AW – 19 August 2016
PRIME MINISTER: The answer is no, not at this stage because we have higher and more urgent Budget repair priorities.
2GB– 25 August 2016
"I think the Government has no plans to make any changes to Section 18C. We have other more pressing, much more pressing priorities to address."
Doorstop – 31 August 2016
PRIME MINISTER: As you know it is not on the Government's agenda.
Press statement - 11 September 2016
Last August, Insider's host Barrie Cassidy attempted to pick the Prime Minister up on his use of language.
BARRIE CASSIDY: On 18C when you were asked about it this week, you said: 'Not at this stage.' Does that mean at one stage you'll be open to the idea of taking 'insult' and 'offend' out of the Bill?
PRIME MINISTER: Barrie, it is not on our agenda.
Insiders – 28 August 2016
Turnbull has also, of late, indicated he was open to change.
PRIME MINISTER: Well, I've said in the past that I think it can be usefully amended
2GB – 15 February 2017
PRIME MINISTER: "People can walk and chew gum at the same time. I mean, issues of freedom of speech are important. Issues of economic management are important."
730 - 14 November 2016
PRIME MINISTER: "What I'm saying is that this is a very legitimate area of discussion. I think the question mark has always been over the use of the words insult and offend."
3AW - 28 October 2016
So as far as promises go, Turnbull certainly ruled changes to 18c out, but not forever. He repeatedly had "no plans", but he does now.
Getting the changes through parliament, with opposition from Labor, the Greens and Nick Xenophon, will be another matter entirely.
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