AIJAC supports the retention of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form in submission to Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Speech
PART IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act has worked effectively for over 20 years and there is no compelling reason for repeal or wholesale reform.
That is the view the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) has argued in its submission to the Australian Federal Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights Inquiry into Freedom of Speech in Australia.
“The legislation under section 18C has allowed people to have recourse when they have been the victims of acts that offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the grounds of race, while freedom of speech is protected through the wide ranging exemptions under section 18D,” AIJAC Executive Director Dr Colin Rubenstein AM said.
Since its introduction, Jewish agencies in Australia have observed changes in behaviour from some organised racist groups, who have sought to avoid breaches of Section 18C.
“More recently, AIJAC believes the rise of populist, extremist groups from all wings of the political spectrum and their associated ugly rhetoric have only strengthened the necessity of maintaining strong protections against racial hatred,” Dr Rubenstein said.
In the submission, AIJAC has argued that nowhere in the world does freedom of expression supersede all other rights. Nor does Section 18C stifle free debate in Australia.
“A modern democracy must serve broad public interests while minimising any impact on freedom of speech – especially as it pertains to carrying out the essential functions of democracy, such as robustly and fully debating public policy issues or other areas of national or communal concern,” Dr Rubenstein said.
“AIJAC sees little reason to believe that free speech is Australia is not robust and well-protected nor that the balance noted above, maximising the scope for free speech while still pursuing other public interest goals, has become skewed.”
In addition, the availability of legal redress actually serves to protect the right to freedom of expression for members of vulnerable minority groups.
AIJAC further argues that the words “offend” and “insult” in 18C do not constitute a “hurt feelings” test, as some claim, as no court judgement has ever treated the legislation as such.
AIJAC does acknowledge that the process by which claims under the legislation are administered might be improved, including by making it easier and quicker for complaints that are trivial, vexatious or lacking in substance to be dismissed by the Australian Human Rights Commission.
“But this has nothing whatsoever to do with the wording of 18C,” Dr Rubenstein said.
AIJAC’s full submission can be accessed here.
Dr Colin Rubenstein AM: (03) 9681 6660
Jeremy Jones AM: (02) 9360 5415