Aus Race Laws In Spotlight After Paris Attacks
13 January 2015 at 10:55 am
Federal and State Governments must repeal their racial discrimination laws in the wake of the the recent attacks on satirical publication Charlie Hebdo in Paris this week, according to the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs.
In particular, the organisation said the Abbott Government must repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) makes it unlawful to “offend, insult humiliate or intimidate” a person on the grounds of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin,” Director of Legal Rights Project, Simon Breheny said.
Section 18C was the provision used against News Corp Australia journalist Andrew Bolt in 2011 for two columns he had published in 2009.
“This week leaders from around the world have united to defend the right of publications like Charlie Hebdo to publish content that is offensive to some,” Breheny said.
“But a publication such as Charlie Hebdo would struggle to survive in Australia, due to laws that censor offensive, insulting, humiliating and intimidating speech. Section 18C could be used against the publishers of cartoons that satirise figures based on their race or ethnicity.
“Content not caught by section 18C would almost certainly be censored by current state religious vilification laws, which are specifically designed to target the kind of content published in Charlie Hebdo.
“The attack on Charlie Hebdo is an attack on freedom of expression. And as Prime Minister Tony Abbott rightly noted in response to this atrocity, ‘Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of a free society.
“The Abbott Government should seek to put the Prime Minister’s words into action by repealing existing Australian laws that restrict free speech, starting with section 18C.”
In August 2014 Prime Minister Tony Abbott dumped 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’’.
However Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Dr Tim Soutphommasane said Section 18C applies only to race, colour, ethnic origin and national origin.
“Religion is not covered. In any case, section 18D protects artistic work and fair comment on matters of public importance. Such speech, even if racially offensive, is exempt from section 18C, provided it is done reasonably and in good faith.”