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Concerns 18C Reform Could Lead to Workplace Bullying

13 September 2016 at 11:50 am
Ellie Cooper
Reducing the strength of the Racial Discrimination Act could lead to racial and religious vilification in the workplace, according to Australia’s Not for Profit workplace diversity advisor.

Ellie Cooper | 13 September 2016 at 11:50 am


Concerns 18C Reform Could Lead to Workplace Bullying
13 September 2016 at 11:50 am

Reducing the strength of the Racial Discrimination Act could lead to racial and religious vilification in the workplace, according to Australia’s Not for Profit workplace diversity advisor.

Workplace bullying

Diversity Council Australia said renewed attacks on section 18C of the act, which are pushing to remove the words “offend and “insult”, were “not ok in 2014, and not ok now”.

CEO of DCA Lisa Annese told Pro Bono Australia News the changes being proposed by Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi were not warranted and would send the wrong message.

“Our concern is the reduction in the strength of the legislation as it applies to workplace,”  Annese said.

“We believe the existing piece of legislation is working and working to protect people in workplaces against racial vilification and religious vilification, and we don’t believe it needs to change. We don’t think there’s a case that’s been made that this needs to change.”

She said anyone could be vulnerable if the reform goes ahead.  

“It could be people who have been in the news the day before, it’s could be wrapped up in other things around refugees and wars and things like that,” she said.

“I would be very concerned at the moment that people who are Muslim or have Islam as their faith may be targets for particular vilification.

Islamophobia in the workplace… is something that we’re starting to see.”

“Those people would be my concern, but really anybody could be a victim of this sort of unacceptable racial intolerance and religious intolerance, and we wouldn’t want to see anything like that, there’s no reason for the legislation to change.”

Research from DCA found non-Australian born respondents were significantly more likely to report discrimination on the basis of culture, 11 per cent compared to 2 per cent of the general population, and were more likely to experience racially motivated harassment, 14 per cent compared to 6 per cent.

Indigenous Australians were also up to six times more likely to experience inappropriate workplace behaviour than non-Indigenous Australians.

Annese said the statistics could worsen if protections from the discrimination act were removed.

“The workplace is an area of an individual’s life that’s really important, it’s where people earn money and keeps them out of poverty, and it’s also where people get their self esteem and their identity and their value, and they contribute to the economy, they contribute to their society, they contribute to their families,” she said.

“Everyone, every individual is entitled to go to work and work in a place that is respectful and where they are valued for their diversity and nobody should go to work and be a victim of any type of harassment or discrimination.

“That principle’s been retrenched in the Racial Discrimination Act for many years… and there’s no reason for it to change, and I think people subjected to bullying and intolerance, it should not be in the place they go to work, it should be a safe place.”

She rejected the argument that changing the act protects freedom of speech.

“I don’t accept that it’s blocking freedom of expression. I think that individuals who are saying that are clearly and loudly expressing their views and we know what their views are, and there’s no need to modify the legislation,” she said.

“The legislation preserves the balance between… freedom of expression while still having respect for people.

“The interesting thing is that we went though this… years ago. There were calls for 18C to be watered down and we actually, as an organisation, consulted with our members… and without exception, people were united in their support for maintaining the status quo.

“So I don’t accept the argument that freedom of expression is being impinged, and for that reason I reject it and indeed all of our members reject it.”

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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