21 November 2013
We have read with growing concern that the Federal government has plans to remove or water down the protections against racial vilification which presently extend to Australians of all backgrounds under the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA).
This would be a step backwards for Australia. We oppose absolutely any such change.
The proposal to change the RDA is being put forward in the name of free speech.
Vilifying entire groups of people because of their race has nothing to do with free speech.
To be vilified because of one’s ethnicity or national origin hurts one’s ability to participate fully in society.
Belonging to a racially vilified group can undermine and ultimately destroy the sense of safety and security with which one goes about one’s daily life. And, paradoxically for free speech advocates, racial vilification can have a silencing effect on those who are vilified.
Racial vilification deprives its targets of equal treatment and a fair go.
This is what makes it un-Australian. Australia should not contemplate going down the path of licensing racial vilification.
The cultural diversity of Australia’s people is a great source of our nation’s strength. It also imposes an obligation on government to protect and encourage social cohesion.
Failure to do so can have very serious if not catastrophic consequences for our society.
A change to the RDA would send a signal that racism is acceptable.
Freedom of speech is fundamental to our liberal democratic society. But any right to free speech has its limits.
For example, we have well-established laws against defamation,
misleading advertising and the transmission of offensive material through the post.
Freedom does not mean the license of individuals to do just as they please because that would ultimately result in the destruction of freedom.
The RDA strikes a careful balance between freedom of expression and freedom from racial vilification.
We urge the Attorney-General to consult with us and other stakeholder communities before any Bill is introduced into the Parliament.
. Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First
. Randa Kattan, CEO, Arab Council Australia
. John Petropolous, President, Australian Hellenic Council
. Peter Wertheim, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry
. Patrick Voon, President, Chinese Australian Forum
. Dr Thang Ha, Vietnamese Community in Australia
. Samir Dandan, President, Lebanese Muslim Association
. Vache H. Karamenian, Executive Director, Armenian National Council of Australia
. Maha Krayem Abdo, Executive Officer, United Muslim Women Association
. Priscilla Brice-Weller, CEO, All Together Now
Indigenous, ethnic groups unite against law changes
Date November 21, 2013
By Jonathan Swan – National political reporter[Intends to consult ‘stakeholders and interested parties’ over changes to sections of the Racial Discrimination Act: Attorney-General George Brandis. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen]
Tony Abbott is facing a fight against Australia’s indigenous, Jewish, Arab, Chinese, Greek, Armenian, Lebanese and Muslim populations, who have united in urging the government not to proceed with announced plans to abolish or weaken race hate laws.
As his first legislative act, George Brandis, Attorney-General wants to introduce a bill to change sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that protect ethnic groups against hate speech. He especially dislikes provisions that make it unlawful to offend or insult people on the basis of their race.
Declaring himself a champion of ”freedom”, Senator Brandis has disparaged the laws used against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt over an article he wrote in which he accused ”white” Australians of identifying as Aborigines to advance their careers.
The head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, said he could not recall
”any other issue on which there has been such unity of purpose and strength of feeling across such a diverse group of communities”.
Jewish leaders have combined in a rare joint protest with prominent ethnic and indigenous leaders.
”We have read with growing concern that the federal government has plans to remove or water down the protections against racial vilification,”
reads the statement signed by the heads of groups including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Arab Council Australia, Chinese Australian Forum, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Australian Hellenic Council, Lebanese Muslim Association and the Armenian National Council of Australia.
”We oppose absolutely any such change. Paradoxically for free speech advocates, racial vilification can have a silencing effect on those who are vilified.”
Senator Brandis has indicated he appreciates the growing backlash against his ”free speech” reforms. He sent Fairfax Media a statement in which he promised to consult with ”stakeholders and interested parties … before introducing the legislation”.
”One of my key priorities as Attorney-General is to rebalance the human rights debate in Australia,”
Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said weakening the race hate laws would send a dangerous signal.
”There must be strong and effective legal protections against racial vilification.”