MOORE MHR Ian Goodenough says he hopes “common sense prevails” over taking “legal action for petty matters” after being appointed chair of a joint Parliamentary Committee on freedom of speech.
Attorney General George Brandis established the committee to inquire and report on two issues relating to freedom of speech in Australia.
The first was whether part of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 imposed unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech, while the second was whether the complaints-handling procedures of the Australian Human Rights Commission should be reformed.
“We will endeavour to consult as widely as possible with stakeholders and interest groups in gathering evidence to prepare the committee report,” Mr Goodenough said.
“Drawing upon my experience as a migrant from Singapore, I arrived in Australia in 1984 as a nine-year-old.”
“In the 1980s and 1990s Australia was not as multi-culturally diverse as it is today.
“Growing up I always made an effort to fit in with Australian life and assimilate, participating in school, sports, and local community activities.
“I did experience my fair share of teasing and name calling but I learnt to be resilient and take it in my stride.
“Multiculturalism and reconciliation are two-way streets; there has to be a degree of give and take in our social interactions.
“Insults and offensive comments are occasionally encountered as a part of everyday life and we must learn to deal with them.
“Resorting to legal action for petty matters should not be our default position.
“Sometimes we do have to broach awkward issues such as cultural conflicts with racial or ethnic minorities.
“Provided it is done in a non-malicious way, it is part of free speech which our society holds dear.”
Senator Brandis said he asked the committee to report by February 28 and encouraged people to put their views forward.
“It is important that Australia strikes the right balance between laws which protect social harmony and mutual respect, and the fundamental democratic value of freedom of speech,” he said.
“The purpose of the inquiry is to ensure that we have that balance right.
“Equally, it is important that the machinery for human rights protection in Australia operates in such a way as to ensure procedural fairness, and that it cannot be used as a vehicle for vexatious complaints.”