In the first sitting of the new parliament, conservatives within the government have muscled a proposed amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act onto the agenda. Senator Eric Abetz, a strong advocate for change, tells Michelle Grattan that he doubts it will be dealt with this year.
“It will be introduced and then I think it would make sense for it to go through the normal processes. It may well go to a Senate committee, things of that nature. So how it transpires - no timetable has been set but we did want to put it up there on the agenda so it could be dealt with in due course,” he says.
“We would hope that in the period of a three-year parliament, we can chew gum and walk at the same time and that there will be time set aside for what is a very minimalist amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act to remove the words offend and insult.”
Abetz, a former leader of the government in the upper house and a minister in the Abbott government, remains resentful of being banished by Turnbull to the backbench and still harbours frontbench ambitions.
“Chances are there’s still some ministerial capacity left within myself. Senator David Bushby, who’s the chief government whip in the Senate - clearly ministerial capacity as well. So I think it’s a disappointment that the prime minister did not see fit to appoint somebody from Tasmania for the frontbench when, if I might say, there is ministerial talent available from Tasmania.”
“I would like to be able to serve on the frontbench again but as I’ve said many a time - I got into politics to serve, not to ‘succeed’, in inverted commas. But of course if you can be on the frontbench you can make a good and positive contribution.”
Authors: Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra