Proposed changes to racial vilification laws

All Together Now is concerned about the proposed racial vilification laws which the government released yesterday.

We believe this draft falls short of balancing freedom from racial vilification with freedom of speech. Currently the Racial Discrimination Act — which has been an effective piece of legislation for nearly 20 years — balances these two freedoms under Section 18C and 18D. Yet the new proposal grants too much freedom for people to offend, insult, or humiliate people on the basis of their race. It will severely weaken protection from racial discrimination which particularly affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

We are particularly concerned that section 2(b) of the proposal focuses on physical harm while ignoring the psychological damage that many targets of racism experience. Australian research has found that a range of health problems including high blood pressure and heart disease, depression, anxiety, low birth rate and premature birth can all be caused directly by people’s personal experiences of racism.

By focussing on physical harm, sections 1 and 2 of the proposal ignores the fact that the most common types of racism experienced in Australia are racist talk and exclusion on the basis of race, ethnicity or cultural background according to the ongoing Challenging Racism research project.

Finally, 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 we stated last week, the Challenging Racism project announced new research findings that nearly 80% of Australians support the current 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, with the results showing:

  • Offend – 66% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful
  • Insult – 72% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful
  • Humiliate – 74% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful
  • Intimidate – 79% of participants agreed or strongly agreed it should be unlawful

All Together Now will continue to analyse the draft Bill in more detail to fully consider its potential impacts. We strongly encourage individuals and organisations concerned about this proposal to make a Submission before 30 April. 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 and this is why it is key for such protections to remain.

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