Statement on government’s “exposure draft” of proposed changes to 18C

Statement on government's

Colin Rubenstein

AIJAC is disappointed by the exposure draft of the Freedom of Speech (Repeal of S. 18C) Bill 2014 released by Attorney-General George Brandis today. In his bid to balance freedom of speech with the right of Australian citizens to go about their lives with dignity and free from racial harassment and vilification, it is our view that the Attorney-General has gone too far and failed to adequately safeguard the latter important rights and values.

The proposed amendment to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act removes any protection against public insults and humiliation on the grounds of race. While the insertion of the word ‘vilify’ is welcome , it is narrowly defined in the exposure draft as merely ” to incite hatred against a person or a group of persons,” and, as a result, its inclusion would likely fail to strengthen protections against racism. The definition is narrower than existing state provisions in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, Tasmania, and the ACT, which forbid inciting “hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of” a person or group.

Similarly, the definition of “intimidation” as merely to “to cause fear of physical harm” is drawn too narrowly and would exclude the many forms of intimidation which do not necessarily involve a direct fear of physical harm.

Finally, the exemptions presented in the proposed draft as an alternative to the current section 18D appear to be written so broadly that it would be difficult to imagine any act which would not be exempt.

To pass the amendments as they stand would risk emboldening racists, threatening the quality of life of ethnic minorities in Australia and seriously straining the fabric of our social cohesion and harmony.

AIJAC welcomes the upcoming community consultations regarding the exposure draft. We look forward to working constructively with the government in order to achieve an outcome which avoids seriously diluting Australia’s legal safeguards against racial vilification and abuse without unduly limiting freedom of speech or opinion.