Community Leaders Reject Changes to Race Hate Laws
20 March 2014 at 10:07 am
Not for Profits and ethnic community representatives have expressed their “vehement opposition” to proposed changes to sections of the Racial Discrimination Act by the Federal Government.
The proposed changes, as part of an election commitment, are to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibit public conduct that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person or groups because of their skin colour or national or ethnic origin.
The ethnic group representing Indigenous, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Arab, Armenian and Korean communities said the proposed changes remove the words “offend, insult, humiliate” from section 18C, as well as removing the requirement that a defendant must have acted “reasonably and in good faith” in order to be covered by the free speech defences available under section 18D.
“These changes would mean that the Federal Government has decided to license the public humiliation of people because of their race,” a spokesperson for the group said.
“It would send a signal that people may spout racist abuse in public, no matter how unreasonably and dishonestly. It would be astonishing if an Australian government in the 21st century was prepared to embrace such a morally repugnant position. It would be utterly indefensible.”
The group, which has been pursuing a vigorous campaign to dissuade Federal politicians against any repeal or watering down of Australia’s laws against racial vilification since November 2013, has vowed to step up its activities.
“The Racial Discrimination Act is one of Australia’s most iconic pieces of legislation. It goes to the heart of Australia’s identity as a nation that is both democratic and culturally diverse. The law ought not to be changed unless there are truly compelling reasons. The outcome of one contentious case falls a long way short in that regard,” the spokesperson said.
“The existing sections 18C and 18D were enacted in 1995 after three national inquiries in Australia found that there is a nexus between racially vilifying conduct in public and racially-motivated violence. The two sections strike a careful balance between freedom from racial vilification and freedom of expression.”
Anti-discrimination Not for Profit, All Together Now, which produces public education initiatives to promote the prevention of racism in Australia said the Attorney General had turned a blind eye to the immense damage and harm caused by racial vilification by proposing to remove protections from the Racial Discrimination Act.
“The way to end racism in Australia is for leaders to acknowledge that racism exists and demonstrate that racism will not be tolerated. Yet the government’s current proposal will do the opposite,” Priscilla Brice, Managing Director of All Together Now, said.
“All Together Now is concerned that the proposal will make racism socially acceptable. Under the guise of ‘free speech’ the only recourse for a target of racial abuse will be to confront the perpetrator because they will no longer have legal protections.
“These legal protections currently enable people to make a complaint via the Australian Human Rights Commission. This is particularly important for people who find themselves in instances where they feel intimidated or it is simply dangerous to speak up because the perpetrator is becoming violent.
“On Monday, researchers from the ongoing Challenging Racism project announced new research findings that nearly 80 per cent of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification,” she said.
“All Together Now remains extremely concerned that the government is considering changes that will put perpetrators in a stronger position, which can be exploited.”
The groups say they have not seen any proposed legislation but expect the Government to introduce a Bill in Parliament soon.