When section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act was being introduced to the parliament in 1994, Mark Latham gave an incredibly impassioned speech outlining the need for the changes.
Latham, who was this week sacked for the second time in two years for his attacks in the media against women and minorities, spoke forcefully about what he considered "landmark legislation".
The government has been recently trying to change the wording of 18C, goaded by conservatives and culture warriors like Mark Latham, who argue it is stifling free speech in Australia.
But in 1994 Latham, at the time the member for Werriwa in western Sydney, said 18C reflected a "tolerant, confident, multicultural society".
This is indeed landmark legislation. It represents an important landmark in Australia's transformation from an inward looking, monocultural society to an outward looking, tolerant, confident, multicultural society.
He goes on and on, describing 18C as a "safety net" and "safeguard".
This legislation is an important landmark in Australian politics and Australian social history because it says that Australia no longer regards those sorts of attitudes and forms of social intolerance and racism as acceptable. We are embracing in the 1990s all the best values of tolerance and multiculturalism. With this bill the government is providing an effective safety net that entrenches those values and attitudes in our society, offering a safeguard to people who may be the subject of racial violence and racial vilification.
Latham was really quite eloquent tbh.
This landmark legislation builds on this achievement and entrenches those values into the statute books of the Commonwealth. It recognises that it is part of Australia's laconic and easygoing character and an expression of our egalitarianism to have these forms of racial tolerance. Most Australians do not pass judgement or express intolerance on the basis of race, colour, creed and culture. Yet a small minority of racists and racist organisations do express and seek to incite racial intolerance and hatred. We need to be vigilant in these matters, understanding the racial intolerance, vilification and violence of a small minority in Australia, and also understanding that, in the broad sweep of Australian history, there have been some unfortunate characteristics of racism that at one time held the majority.
He said it was about balancing free speech and fair speech.
A restriction against incitements to racial violence and vilification is totally valid to ensure not so much absolute freedom of speech but fair speech, consistent with the values of tolerance and understanding.
It reflected the decade's "proper Australian values".
There is no absolute freedom of speech in Australia because of those other restricting laws. This is a provision for fair speech, consistent with proper Australian values in the 1990s.
Flash forward to 2017, when in the wake of being sacked from Sky News, Latham said race did not matter.
Well, apparently it did once.
Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Mark Di Stefano at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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