Communities Welcome Racial Discrimination Backdown
6 August 2014 at 12:59 pm
Ethnic and other community leaders have welcomed the Abbott Government’s decision to drop its controversial plans to water down the Racial Discrimination Act.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was a ‘‘leadership call’’ to dump the proposed changes to Section 18C of the Act, which had been criticised by ethnic community leaders and the wider community.
The backdown came as the Prime Minister announced new counter- terrorism laws with Attorney-General George Brandis.
Senator Brandis had led the Government’s move to change 18C, telling Federal Parliament that people had the ‘‘right to be a bigot’’.
Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils in Australia Deputy Chair Eugenia Grammatikakis said FECCA had advocated strongly against the changes that it argued would fail to achieve an appropriate and reasonable balance between the protection from racial vilification and the protection of free speech.
"FECCA believes that the current racial vilification provisions in the RDA set clear limits and establish accountability under the law for racist offensive remarks and hate speech, which is critical in eliminating racism and racist behaviour in Australia’s culturally diverse society,” Grammatikakis said.
The Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV) also applauded the Government’s decision.
“The ECCV is heartened to see the Federal Government also believes that no change to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 will strengthen the protection of Victorians and Australians from culturally diverse backgrounds against racism and offense,” ECCV chairperson Eddie Micallef said
“More than 76 per cent of 4100 submissions to Attorney-General George Brandis’ draft changes to the Racial Discrimination Act were opposed to the proposal, of which the ECCV was a voice.”
Micallef said leaving the Act unchanged would improve the quality of life of Victorians and Australians in Australia’s liberal democracy by keeping racial vilification protections.
“Ethnic communities and people in general need legal protection against vilification, offensive remarks and hate speech,” he said.
“This is a win for the thousands organisations, representing many millions of voices who called for the government to keep the Act unchanged.
“This is not curtailing free speech. The Act as it stands has been successful and has not led to vexatious or frivolous claims. In fact there have been less than 30 complaints successfully upheld over the years.”
The Australian Council of Social Service described the decision as a “sensible step” that ensures that an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and protection from racism is maintained in our laws.
“The last thing we want to see in our country is the watering down of important protections that have helped make our community strong, by condoning abuse and intimidation on the basis of a person's race or ethnicity and potentially fuelling racial tension,” ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said.
Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said the Government had been forced to stop giving a green light to racism.
“And, it could have listened to the community well before it got into government, because community groups made it very clear that they were opposed to the Liberal and National parties proposed changes to Section 18C,” he said.
“I congratulate all those community groups, the thousands of Australians across the nation who have fought so hard against this and have made their views known, their very strong views known to the Prime Minister, to the Attorney-General: that this change did not represent the kind of Australia we want to have.”
The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Chairperson Justin Mohamed said it was proven that racism could have detrimental effects on the health of Aboriginal people.
“Racism can impact on self- esteem and confidence and ultimately contribute to poor mental and physical health,” he said.
“We already have a high incidence of mental health issues in our communities and youth suicide rates which are the shame of the nation – five times higher than in non-Aboriginal young people.
“Racism should never be tolerated and it is little wonder communities across Australia have reacted so strongly against the watering down of provisions in the Racial Discrimination Act under Section 18C."
Labor Senator Nova Peris said she congratulated the thousands of Australians and organisations who spoke up against the changes.
“People power has worked. Your voices have been heard in a win for tolerance and respect,” Senator Peris said.
“I am certain that Constitutional Recognition for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could not be achieved while the Government pursued their proposed amendments.
“Today a barrier has been removed and I look forward to renewed progress towards Constitutional Recognition.”