By Neeraj Nanda
Melbourne, 9 April : Attorney-General George Brandis recently laid out controversial plans to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA). The section which protects Australians against racist and hate speech will be repealed and replaced by a new section to outlaw racial vilification and current safeguards against intimidation. The government claims changes will give greater protection against racism “while at the same time removing provisions which unreasonably limit freedom of speech.” A case has been made out that Sec 18-C limits freedom of speech.
This has come under criticism from the opposition, human rights campaigners and ethnic communities. Recent information session on the subject at the Dandenong civic centre, by the Shadow Attorney general Mark Dreyfus and backed by the Human Rights Law Centre laid bare the existing law and the proposed changes.
Mark addressing the gathering said 18-C protected our freedom of speech as well as gave us freedom from vilification. The law survived 11 and a half years of the Howard government and now the proposal is the complete removal of the protection. It was emphasised freedom of speech was not ‘absolute’.
“The Australian labour Party is concerned,” he said.
Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director, Human Rights Law Centre detailed the provisions of Sec. 18-C (protection against racist hate speech) and Sec 18-D (Exceptions from Sec. 18-C). He explained how the Andrew Bold articles talked about some people pretending to be Aborigines (not full blood Aborigines) to get access to facilities. This was challenged the Federal Court (2011) and in which Bolt was found in breach of the RDA.
Under the changes, the words “offend, insult and humiliate” would be deleted from the existing laws. “Vilify” would be inserted but narrowly defined and the existing protection against “intimidation” would also be given a new narrow definition. The drafting of the community standards test opens up the prospect of perpetuating prejudice. The existing free speech exemptions for fair comment, fair reporting and artistic and scientific works would be over-inflated and greatly expanded to include “public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.” Importantly, the requirements for “reasonableness” and “good faith” in the exemptions would be removed.
“The exemptions are the most concerning part of the changes,” said Mr de Kretser
Answering to a question the Shadow Attorney General said, “We oppose the changes and no case has been made by the government for change. It gives a wrong kind of message.”
– SAT News Service