Australian Government proposes amendments to Racial Discrimination Act

Friday, March 28, 2014

The Australian Federal Government has proposed repealing sections of the Racial Discrimmination Act that make it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” another person or group based on race.

Tony Abbott in 2013
Image: Australia Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Attorney-General George Brandis said during question time in the Australian Senate that amending section 18C of the Racial Discrimation Act 1975 was in the interest of freedom of speech, saying: “In a free country people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted."

The Government is proposing to retain intimidation due to race as an offence and create a new law making it illegal to “vilify another person” based on “race, colour or national or ethnic origin.”

...we also want this country to be a nation where freedom of speech is enjoyed.

Tony Abbott

Prime Minister Tony Abbott supported the proposed amendment, saying: “Of course this Government is determined to try to ensure that Australia remains a free and fair and tolerant society, where bigotry and racism has no place. But we also want this country to be a nation where freedom of speech is enjoyed.”

Members of the Opposition have spoken against the proposed amendment, with Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus saying “Senator Brandis has clearly revealed today he intends to give a green light to racist hate speech in Australia."

Indigenous Liberal MP Ken Wyatt expressed concern over the legislation, and warned he could vote against his own party. “For me, it is about not disabling a mechanism that makes people think carefully about the vilification of anyone or any group because they know there is a deterrent," said Wyatt.

The proposed draft will undergo community consultation for a month, with Senator Brandis welcoming alterations, “I am acutely aware of the importance that in protecting freedom of speech, we don't send the wrong messages. I want as much community engagement as possible". The legislation will be introduced to the Parliament of Australia in the budget session when it resumes on May 13.

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