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were mooted last week in The Australian stating that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is at risk of being repealed.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”.