Chorus of opposition to racial discrimination changes grows

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Chorus of opposition to racial discrimination changes grows

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) is deeply concerned by the renewed attack on important human rights protections with proposed amendments to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination introduced into the Senate via a private member’s bill.

Dr. Tamsin Clarke, Chair of ALHR’s Freedoms Subcommittee said: “when similar attempts were made to erode protections against hate speech under the Abbott Government, these changes were unequivocally proven to be unpopular with the majority of Australians. They are also inconsistent with international human rights law.”

“A watered-down RDA would fail to protect human dignity owing to its narrow focus only on incitement of hatred and fear of physical violence. Opponents of the present s 18C don’t seem to understand that there is no such thing anywhere in the world as unlimited free speech and that the present wording sets appropriate restrictions on racial abuse. Racial abuse is a type of bullying which harms victims’ health and opportunities, and restricts their own free speech. It makes victims frightened to participate in public debate. It undermines Australia’s social cohesion and democracy. As history has taught us, unchecked racial abuse poisons society and can lead to devastating consequences,” said Dr Clarke.

ALHR strongly opposes the removal of the existing reference in the RDA to acts ‘reasonably likely to offend or insult’. To properly comply with international law, says ALHR, the RDA should include a wider definition of vilification, covering psychological and not merely physical intimidation; exemptions and defences should involve reasonableness, truth, fairness or good faith; and the standard of reasonableness should be determined from the perspective of a hypothetical reasonable representative of the victim group.

Dr Clarke said: “Free speech and freedom from racial vilification are complementary rights, and it is generally accepted both in international law and numerous other democracies that it is possible to achieve an appropriate regulatory balance between them.”

“We already have many laws restricting speech because the right to freedom of speech carries with it duties and responsibilities. It is difficult to see on what grounds ‘free speech’ for some can be elevated to a status whereby it trumps the right of others to live their lives free from intimidation and harassment on the grounds of race.”

ALHR calls on Prime Minister Turnbull to show both political and moral leadership by taking decisive action and re-stating his pre-election commitment to maintain the current protections offered under s 18C.

Media Contacts:

Dr. Tamsin Clarke, Chair of ALHR’s Freedoms Subcommittee M: 0411 024 304 E: freedoms@alhr.org.au

Kerry West, ALHR Vice-President M: 0404 270 671  E: vicepresident@alhr.org.au

ALHR was established in 1993 and is a national network of solicitors, barristers, academics, judicial officers and law students who practise and promote international human rights law in Australia. ALHR has active and engaged National, State and Territory committees and a secretariat at La Trobe University Law School in Melbourne. Through advocacy, media engagement, education, networking, research and training, ALHR promotes, practices and protects universally accepted standards of human rights throughout Australia and overseas.