The political landscape in NSW has changed in the past fortnight and it is an honour to have been given the opportunity to take on the job of leading this great state.
I have chosen a team that brings renewal, experience and a capacity to transform NSW. My team is continuing with the work this Government has already been doing over the past three years, which is improving services, building desperately needed infrastructure and looking out for those of us who are vulnerable and less fortunate.
I would like to pay tribute to the former premier, Barry O’Farrell, and wish him all the best. Since 2011, NSW has moved into a far stronger position and we have basically gone from a laughing stock on many economic indicators, to a national leader.
At the time I took over as Premier, the Australian community was debating proposed changes to federal racial discrimination laws. As has been covered in this column previously, Mr O’Farrell had taken a strong stand against the proposal and I want to make it clear that I share this position.
We have such a rich and diverse network of communities in NSW and what I have been hearing in recent weeks is that many people are worried about these proposed changes. I want our ethnic communities to know that we are prepared to stand up for them because we’re prepared to stand up for what we think is right.
Any policy of this nature is going to attract attention and discussion and the federal government has gone about this the right way by putting it out there in draft form to take on concerns and issues that might be held across the community. This approach is entirely appropriate and I will be urging the federal Attorney General, George Brandis, to take the concerns of the NSW community on board.
The NSW Government has lodged a formal submission firmly opposing changes to the protections that are already in place to guard against racial vilification laws – contained in the federal Racial Discrimination Act 1975.
In formulating our response we listened to the broad concern across our multicultural communities, which fear any changes to the so-called Section 18 would diminish the protection and deterrence against racial hatred.
We have united with the Victorian Government to oppose the changes, which is fitting because NSW and Victoria are the states with the biggest ethnic populations, representing more than 50 per cent of the Australian population.
Our submission makes it clear that exemptions contained in the Exposure Draft are too broad. We have also outlined our support for the retention of Section 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act because of the practical and symbolic importance of the protections it affords – particularly for our Aboriginal, multicultural and multi-faith communities.
Freedom of speech is essential to our democracy, but it has never been an unfettered right and must be balanced against other protections in place – especially those that address racial hatred. Public debate about how we balance these competing rights is healthy for our democracy. However, the NSW Government is opposed to the proposed changes to racial vilification laws because we believe that vilification on the grounds of race or religion is always wrong and we should never allow it to be sanctioned, whether intentionally or otherwise.
Published in The Indian Sun (Indian magazine in Sydney)