Posted on 1 May 2014

The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples rejects the Coalition Government’s proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) and has called in its submission to the Attorney-General for the Exposure Draft of the Freedom of Speech (Repeal of Section 18C) Bill 2014 to be abandoned in its entirety.

The RDA is a key, if not foundational, law establishing Australia’s identity as a nation upholding equality and tolerance within a diverse multicultural society.

The racial hatred provisions of the Act, contained in Part IIA and including Sections 18C, D and E, have functioned satisfactorily since being passed in 1995. They were introduced after long-standing and rigorous debate regarding the balance of freedom of expression and freedom from discrimination.

“Congress is concerned that change as proposed to these provisions would send a signal that racism is acceptable,” said Congress Co-Chair Kirstie Parker. “We cannot justify racial vilification as a freedom. Our key objections include, but are not limited, to:

– No compelling case has been made to change the RDA.
– The draft Bill fails to achieve a proper balance between freedom of expression, a basic right that is strongly supported, and the right to live free from threat of harm through racial vilification and discrimination, another basic human right.
– The proposed definitions of ‘vilify’ and ‘intimidate’ in subsection 1 of the draft Bill are too narrow and inadequate in providing protection against racial discrimination, particularly if ‘offend, insult or humiliate’ were removed as proposed.
– The failure to restrict speech in virtually any context to what is “reasonable and in good faith” would be unacceptable.
– The draft Bill does not adequately recognise the often serious and profound harm – beyond the physical to emotional, psychological and/or social – caused by the public expression of racial hatred.

“The harm caused by racial vilification should not be dismissed,” Ms Parker said. “Even if not physical, this harm is very real and often extensive. It can undermine and ultimately destroy the sense of safety and security with which our peoples go about their daily lives.

“The cultural diversity of Australia’s people is a great source of our nation’s strength.  Our government is obliged to protect and encourage social cohesion. At a time when the number of complaints of racial hatred to the Australian Human Rights Commission is on the rise, we need to maintain strong protections and we need national leadership on the issue.

“It is the virtual fabric of our society that we are focused on here, we must strive to be the best, healthiest and safest society we can be. We owe this to our children, grandchildren and future generations.”

Read the full Congress submission here.

Media contact: Julie Nimmo 02 8070 3100

Congress is a leader and advocate for protecting and advancing the wellbeing and empowerment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. Congress has about 8000 individual members and over 180 organisational members, including peak, national and local bodies.