All Together Now has made a submission to the Attorney General regarding proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
All Together Now rejects the proposed law and would like to emphasise the significant harm that racist hate speech of all kinds has in our community. You can read All Together Now’s reservations to the proposed law below.
If you have your own opinion on the proposed law, email your response to: [email protected]. You may use All Together Now’s response as a guide for your own submission. The Human Rights Law Centre has produced a fantastic information paper which we also suggest you read before you make your submission.
All Together Now expresses deep concern over the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
We believe that the proposed changes do not get the balance right in protecting free speech and protecting everyone’s right to be free from being exposed to racial hate speech. We are concerned that the changes will have a destructive effect on Australian society at large, and in particular on racial and ethnic minority groups.
There has been a 59% increase in complaints of racial abuse to the Australian Human Rights Commission over the past year, with nearly half of these being complaints about cyber-racism[iii].
Racial abuse is particularly damaging to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the First Australians. 75% of Aboriginal people regularly experience racism[iv].
Racism is also very harmful to new migrants, who are often targeted because English is not their first language[v].
Many cultural minority groups are the targets of “offensive” hate speech in public places. The Scanlon Foundation’s Recent Arrivals Report[vi] found that racism is one of the top three concerns of new migrants.[vii] Many who travel to Australia are put off by stories of racial abuse in public and this has a negative impact on our international reputation, and the tourism industry.
All Together Now is the only national racism prevention charity in Australia. Antiracism is our core business, and we constantly hear stories of racism and racial discrimination from Australian residents.
People from culturally and linguistically diverse groups and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples want to be free from verbal insults and offensive comments when walking down the street, when on public transport, in the workplace and online. Never mind when they are reading the newspaper, listening to the radio or watching television shows.
All Together Now believes that adopting the higher thresholds of “vilify” and “intimidate” of the draft proposal will exacerbate the problems of racism described above by effectively removing people’s fundamental protection from racial hatred. Adopting these new thresholds will put perpetrators in a stronger position, which can be exploited.
All Together Now is particularly concerned that section 2(b) of the proposed Bill focuses on physical harm while ignoring psychological harms that many targets of racism experience.
Australian research has found that a range of health problems including:
can be directly attributed to people’s personal experiences of racism[viii].
These tangible, psychological effects are often triggered by verbal racial abuse. The fact that these are not catered to at all in the proposed Bill is a worrying oversight. Psychological harm can often have a longer, and more pervasive affect than physical injury.
By focusing on physical harm, sections 1 and 2 of the proposal ignore that the most common type of racism in Australia is racist hate speech and exclusion on the basis of race, ethnicity or cultural background[ix]. In fact, it is racial hate talk that divides and fractures our communities, and has tangible psychological affects on its members.
The proposed changes therefore go too far in removing protections of racial minorities from hate speech in public places.
All Together Now is also concerned that employees who face racial discrimination in the workplace will be left unprotected if the proposed law is enacted. Ramifications of the above mentioned psychological and physical effects of racism in the workplace include increased absenteeism and decreased productivity, both of which add to the cost of running a business and affect the broader Australian economy.
Employees who face racial discrimination in the workplace have two options: action under company policy, or under the Racial Discrimination Act. Yet many companies do not have grievance procedures relating specifically to racism, but rather focus more broadly on bullying and workplace harassment.
Workers who are left to take action under the Racial Discrimination Act, for say, verbal racial abuse in the workplace, generally find recourse under section 18C.
If section 18C is abolished then workers will have recourse to company policy alone, which may or may not include protections against racial slurs. We can’t rely on organisations (particularly small businesses) to have their own comprehensive policies to protect people against verbal racial abuse. Rather, this is the mandate of the law: to protect people who are vulnerable and at risk of psychological harm in the workplace.
All Together Now is concerned that the impact of the existing Racial Discrimination Act, and any amendments to that Act, on activities which take place on the Internet (for example on social networking sites) is not widely known within the Australian community.
The Australian Human Rights Commission reports 41% of complaints lodged relate to internet hate or cyber racism.[x]
We suggest that more work needs to be done to raise awareness of the application of the Racial Discrimination Act to expressions of racism online as well as how the Act can be enforced in this context. The effects of cyber racism, particularly in online “public” forums such as social media networks, can cause just as much damage as public racial abuse on the street or in the workplace.
The Challenging Racism project[xi] has found that nearly 80% of people support laws against racial vilification. 2,100 respondents were asked whether it should be unlawful to “humiliate, insult, offend or intimidate” someone according to their race.
On each particular word:
Since then, a Fairfax-Nielsen poll released in mid-April found that 88% of voters believe it should be unlawful to “offend, insult or humiliate” somebody on the basis of race[xii].
This research, combined with an outcry from 156 organisations nationally that was presented in an open letter to the Attorney General in December 2013, shows that the majority of the community is in favour of the existing law, over proposed changes.
The new proposal “does not apply to words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.”
Given these very broad exemptions, we are left asking in what circumstance racial vilification or intimidation would be unlawful. As long as one is able to link their words to a “political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter”, they can essentially say whatever they like to abuse someone on the basis of their race. This seems out of touch with Australia’s multicultural experiences, and the diversity that makes this country what it is.
All Together Now is particularly concerned that people engaging in public discussions are often positioned by the media as role models and have a higher degree of influence over public thought and discussion than the average person. To give broadcasters carte blanche to express racist views poses a significant risk that the community at large will adopt their views, leading to social fragmentation.
This undermines the work that the governments and civil society organisations have done over past decades to build community cohesion and reduce racism.
The justification for this broader exemption is the right to freedom of speech of all Australians. It is important to note that there is no constitutional right to freedom of speech in Australia.
Even within international instruments, the right to freedom of expression is not absolute. Article 19(3) of the ICCPR recognises that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression may be subject to restrictions in certain circumstances, including where necessary to respect the rights and reputations of others. The right to freedom of expression must therefore be balanced against other rights.
In practice, freedom of expression is already legitimately limited in whole range of areas in Australia such as sexual harassment, making threats to kill, defamation, confidentiality, contempt of court, misleading and deceptive conduct. There are also criminal sanctions on offensive language in State law.
International human rights law specifically recognises the need to limit freedom of expression to protect against the harm of racial vilification. Article 20 of the ICCPR specifically provides that states must prohibit by law any advocacy of racial hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
Australia is also a party to the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which requires Australia to take steps to eliminate the promotion and incitement of racial discrimination and hatred.
All Together Now rejects the proposed amendments, and would like to highlight our concern about the grave harms racial hate speech can and does have in Australia’s public spaces.
It is clear from Australian research that verbal racist hate speech has a deleterious effect on people’s psychological and physical wellbeing. The harms caused are directly attributable to words said in public spaces. By focusing on physical harm, sections 1 and 2 of the proposal ignore that the most common type of racism in Australia is racist hate speech and exclusion on the basis of race, ethnicity or cultural background[xiii].
There are likewise growing health risks posed by racism in online spaces, on social media and other “public” online platforms. Complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission regarding online verbal abuse have increased in recent years, marking an increased number of people who feel targeted because of their race, while online.[xiv]
These trends and harms are largely ignored by the current proposal. Furthermore, there is a risk that the proposal will leave racist hate speech regulation up to workplaces, which lack specific grievance procedures relating to racism. It is the law, and not companies, who should bear the burden of regulating racial hate speech in the workplace.
We suggest that the current proposal is out of touch with the community’s concerns in these areas. There is broad popular support for the law as it currently stands. As above, we emphasise that surveys show people largely in support of the existing wording of the statute.
It is important to recall Australia’s international obligations, and the commitment we have made to the International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD). Australia is first and foremost a multicultural society, and hence protections against racial discrimination should be at the forefront of our legal and policy initiatives, as mandated by our international obligations.
Diversity is one of Australia’s strengths, and we pride ourselves on the success of multiculturalism in this country. Lets not forget the Racial Discrimination Act as it currently stands has been an important foundation for this success. By preventing and regulating the harms caused by racist hate speech in public, the Racial Discrimination Act helps facilitate multiculturalism, and assists in providing a platform for a multitude of diverse voices. This is why it is key that the law remains unchanged, and the above concerns are addressed in any new proposal.
[i] Challenging Racism: The Anti-Racism Research Project, University of Western Sydney (2012)
[ii] Reporting Racism Report, Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commission (2013), p. 14.
[iii] Australian Human Rights Commission, Annual Report (2012 – 2013)
[iv] Yin Paradies, Ricci Harris and Ian Anderson, ‘The Impact of Racism on Indigenous Health in Australia and Aotearoa: Towards a Research Agenda’, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, p. 6.
[v] Andrew Markus, ‘Recent Arrivals Report’, Mapping Social Cohesion, Scanlon Foundation Surveys (2013), p. 27.
[vi] Andrew Markus, ‘Recent Arrivals Report’, Mapping Social Cohesion, Scanlon Foundation Surveys (2013).
[vii] Andrew Markus, ‘Recent Arrivals Report’, Mapping Social Cohesion, Scanlon Foundation Surveys (2013), p. 27.
[viii] Yin Paradies, Ricci Harris and Ian Anderson, ‘The Impact of Racism on Indigenous Health in Australia and Aotearoa: Towards a Research Agenda’, Cooperative Research Centre for Aboriginal Health, p. 11.
[ix] ‘National Level Findings’, Challenging Racism: The Anti-Racism Research Project, University of Western Sydney (2012)
[x] Australian Human Rights Commission, Annual Report (2012 – 2013)
[xi] ‘National Level Findings’, Challenging Racism: The Anti-Racism Research Project, University of Western Sydney (2012)
[xii] ‘Race hate: voters tell Brandis to back off”, Sydney Morning Herald, 13 April 2014, <http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/race-hate-voters-tell-brandis-to-back-off-20140413-zqubv.html>, accessed 15 April 2014
[xiii] ‘National Level Findings’, Challenging Racism: The Anti-Racism Research Project, University of Western Sydney (2012)
[xiv] Australian Human Rights Commission, Annual Report (2012 – 2013)
When we talk about Harmony in Australia, we often allude to multiculturalism and how we can live in Harmony with one another. Australia is, after all, one of the most multicultural countries on earth. We speak over 200 languages (including 50 Indigenous languages), and 23% of us are first generation: born overseas. Yet when it comes to workplace practices, often those who are most discriminated against are new migrant workers, and in particular, those who do not speak English as their first language.
Generally it’s company policies, rather than government laws or regulations, that dictate how overseas workers will be treated in work. Instead of being proactive in regards to migrant rights, Australia has left these matters on the back burner. Australia has not signed, for instance, the UN Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers and Members of Their Family. This convention stresses that even “undocumented” workers should have their rights respected, and that migrants should be treated equally, just as any other human being.
Australia, like other receiving countries, avoids signing onto these treaties because they demand obligations in return to receiving migrant workers. These protections go against the current narrative of Australia needing control over its borders, or the ability to turn away, oppress or dehumanize those who are seen as unwelcome and threatening. Discourse in Australia tends to focus on 457 visas, refugees and migrant workers in Australia. These discussions tend to dehumanize migrants, make them seem like a threat, or delegitimize their humanity.
In the workplace, migrant workers who face racial discrimination have two options: action under company policy, or under the Racial Discrimination Act. Several companies do not have grievance procedures relating specifically to racism, but rather focus more broadly on workplace bullying and harassment.
Migrant workers who are left to take action under the Racial Discrimination Act, for say, verbal racial abuse in the workplace, generally find recourse under section 18C.
Section 18C Currently protects people against speech likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” them on the basis of their race. This makes it unlawful for someone to yell a racial slur at you on the bus, or unlawful for newspapers to publish blatantly racist, offensive materials. In the workplace, it also makes it unlawful for employers to verbally abuse employees, in public spaces.
Yet the government’s proposed abolition of section 18C would leave migrant workers without protection if and when they face racism in the workplace. The government is seriously considering making these changes despite the fact that 80% of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification.
It is more important now than ever before that companies adopt internal company procedures regarding racism in the workplace. Company policy, and in particular grievance procedures, can give employees a place to go for help when facing sustained verbal abuse, or racial discrimination. Remember that the general wellbeing of employees is linked to their productivity, which is directly linked to your bottom line. It is important, both as a moral and business imperative, that businesses help out employees suffering from racial discrimination in the workplace.
Businesses looking to do something to stop racism should contact All Together Now today.
Together, we can discuss a partnership to prevent racism. We’ve already worked with several organizations to assist them in erasing racism in the workplace.
The government has indicated it intends to make racist hate speech, racist publications and racial slurs legal in Australia. This goes against the very grain of Australian society, as a place where people from all cultures can feel safe and respected.
Some proposed changes were mooted last week in The Australian stating that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is at risk of being repealed. Currently, this Act protects people against speech likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” on the basis of race. It is “unlawful” for someone to yell a racial slur at you on the bus, and unlawful for newspapers to publish blatantly racist materials.
Two weeks ago on Q&A the Attorney General confirmed his intention to repeal 18C. Last week he defended people’s “right to be bigots”, advocating freedom of speech. Yet this argument does not make sense given there are already protections for freedom of speech in place under section 18D of the Act.
The Attorney General appears to have turned a blind eye to the immense damage and harm caused by racial vilification. Effects on individuals include high blood pressure, depression and lower employment opportunities. Effects on society at large include economic loss to businesses due to complaints made about racial discrimination in the workplace, reduced tourism, and reduced interest in studying in Australia by international students.
If these changes go ahead they will weaken Australia’s laws on racial vilification and would make it legal to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone on the basis of their race.
Yet new research shows that nearly 80% of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification. Most people agree that it should be unlawful to make public racist remarks. And that this should never be a legal activity. No changes to the law are necessary.
Further, the Scanlon Foundation’s Recent Arrivals Report released this week found that racism is one of the top three concerns of new migrants. Clearly, legal protections are required to ensure the most vulnerable people in Australia are able to live in a safe environment free from racial abuse and discrimination.
Now is the time to act. We, as citizens who care about human rights, need to make as much noise as possible to tell the government we need strong, effective, racial vilification laws in Australia.
What You Can Do
1. Write to your newspaper. Let the public know you are against the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, and express your support for strong laws against racial vilification in Australia.
2. Contact your friends / family / acquaintances. In the absence of public consultation, there is now a need for community members affected by racism to speak up against the changes, and tell the public how they are affected by verbal racial abuse.
3. Send a letter to your federal MP. Your Minister should have your objections to these proposals at the forefront of their mind when they vote on this bill.
We need to keep strong laws against racial vilification in this country. Racial slurs, racist publications and public racist remarks should never become “lawful”.