Eric Abetz guilty of 'inappropriate' racial term, racial discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane says.

By political reporter Francis Keany

Liberal senator Eric Abetz has been criticised by the race discrimination commissioner for using the term “negro” during a radio interview.

The Tasmanian senator was involved in a heated debate on Macquarie Radio in Sydney yesterday about same-sex marriage.

He was asked about reports bakeries were refusing to make wedding cakes for same-sex couples and whether it would be just as bad if the couple were Asian.

“Those sorts of analogies are quite offensive and that sort of analogy was completely debunked by Justice Clarence Thomas, the negro American on the Supreme Court of the United States dealing with this issue, who dissented on the issue of marriage as well,” Senator Abetz told Radio 2UE.

Justice Thomas is an African-American Justice of the US Supreme Court who criticised a decision to invalidate state-based same-sex marriage bans in June.

Race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said it was “disappointing” that such language would be used in public debate.

“Most fair-minded people would recognise that ‘negro’ is an outdated term that is inappropriate and racially loaded,” he said.

Mr Soutphommasane said it was a racial slur, even if the senator was not meaning to insult Justice Thomas.

“This is the modern reality of racism,” he said.

“You can cause harm, even if you don’t intend to cause harm or even if you’re not motivated by malice.


“Sometimes racism is the product of ignorance and isn’t necessarily motivated by hatred.”

The Federal Opposition has condemned the senator’s remarks.

“Eric Abetz is a dinosaur, he holds the views of a dinosaur,” Opposition Leader Bill Shorten told a press conference in Melbourne.

“The ethnic or cultural background of a judge of the American Supreme Court is irrelevant to the gentlemen’s judgements.”

Labor’s multiculturalism spokeswoman Michelle Rowland has called on Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to act.

“It’s 2015. At this stage in history, just about every right-minded human recognises that it’s a deeply offensive term,” she said.

“I find it extraordinary that it has been used in 2015, and extraordinary that it has been used by someone that up until very recently, was the leader of the government in the Senate.

“I think Eric Abetz should apologise for the use of that term and Malcolm Turnbull should show some leadership.”

Fellow Tasmanian Senator Jacquie Lambie said Senator Abetz’s time was up and the Liberals should recruit some “young blood”.

Senator Abetz has declined to comment.

This post originally appeared on ABC Online.

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