Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

AIJAC's statement on the federal government's proposed changes to 18C

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While procedural changes are welcome, there is no justification for changes to 18C

AIJAC Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein AM and Jeremy Jones AM, Director of International & Community Affairs stated today:

"We welcome the government's efforts to implement the Parliamentary Joint Committee Inquiry into Freedom of Speech recommendations on improving and streamlining the process by which Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is administered by the Human Rights Commission.

"However, we are disappointed that, despite the Parliamentary Joint Committee Inquiry finding no consensus for making changes to 18C itself, the government is now pushing ahead with major changes anyway.

"Removing the words ‘insult', ‘offend' and ‘humiliate' from Section 18C, as proposed, and replacing them with 'harass' will, in our view, significantly weaken legislation that has worked effectively for over 20 years.

"As we have consistently maintained, under the balance provided by Sections 18C and 18D, free speech in Australia is robust and well-protected while the legislation still addresses the most destructive forms of hate speech. Indeed, with the one exception of the 2011 case Eatock v Bolt, no finding under 18C has proven at all controversial. There is no compelling case for change to the wording of 18C, especially given the extensive case law that has been built up around the existing wording.

"While we do not see the justification for the changes to 18C that the government is requesting, we do call on all parties to move ahead with the consensus procedural changes recommended by the Inquiry.

"Two public controversies over 18C, the Leak case and the QUT case, did raise legitimate procedural issues, although neither one led to findings that anyone had breached 18C.

"We also welcome the Government's reaffirmation of Australian multiculturalism and their position that racism and discrimination are incompatible with Australian values and society."

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