No case to change Australia’s racial vilification laws

No case to change Australia’s racial vilification laws

There is no case for changing important racial vilification protections in the Racial Discrimination Act, the Human Rights Law Centre said today.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights yesterday released a report which contained a range of proposals on sections 18C and 18D supported by at least one committee member. Proposals included no change to the laws as well as some suggestions for amendment. The Committee stopped short of recommending that sections 18C and 18D needed to change.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Adrianne Walters said, “The push to weaken the laws by some has run aground. It’s hard to imagine what those pushing for change want people to be able to say that they currently can’t. Any move to weaken the law itself would have sent a green light to racism. We need to move on and focus on the fight against racism.”

“The Committee rightly acknowledged the profound impacts of serious forms of racism and recommended that our leaders identify and condemn racially hateful and discriminatory speech. It also recommended more investment in educating the public about how sections 18C and 18D actually operate,” said Ms Walters.

The current racial vilification laws play an important role in protecting vulnerable minority groups from racism and abuse. They have been interpreted sensibly by the courts and contain a broad defence. They strike a healthy balance between two fundamental rights – the right to be free from racial discrimination and freedom of speech.

Ms Walters said when Australia signed up to the UN’s treaty on eliminating racial discrimination it committed to keep taking steps to stop racial discrimination.

“The Committee has come back and said that our racial vilification laws are consistent with our international human rights obligations. What these laws do is empower those so often silenced by racism to participate in public debate. The laws actually promote equality in freedom of speech,” said Ms Walters.

“The Committee’s report sends a clear message to the Australian Government that it needs to provide strong leadership in calling out racial vilification and take meaningful steps to combat the scourge of racism,” added Ms Walters.

The Committee also made a number of recommendations about the Australian Human Rights Commission.

“The Commission plays a critical role in making sure vulnerable people know they have somewhere to turn when they experience discrimination. It provides a low-cost, efficient and informal way to resolve complaints about many different types of discrimination. Some of the Committee’s recommendations seek to improve that process however we are concerned by some of the recommendations that could undermine access to justice for vulnerable Australians,” said Ms Walters.

The Human Right Law Centre’s submission to the Committee can be found here.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519