ECAJ: MEDIA RELEASE – Racism is NOT FREE SPEECH

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.

Authorised by:

. Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First
Peoples
. 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

SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

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.”

 

Check Also

Cairns Jewish Community visits the ADF – Australian Defence Force.

The children of the Cairns Jewish Community baked and delivered honey cakes as a present for the …

17 comments

  1. I am having certain doubts about this objections to the, so far, unknown intended changes specifically to that Section 18c of the Part III of the Act ( 1975 ).
    I said elsewhere and worth repeating. Part II, Section 9 of the same Act deals with the issues to some extent.

    The removal of the prohibitions currently in Part III, Section 18c, may permit certain public manifestations now still deemed offensive.

    My personal take is that, should my identity or identity related interests/concerns be affected by the removal of this 18c, I could retort in the same “allowed” manner and, thus, afford the possibility of expanding on my VALID position in the given argument.

    Judging by the brave company I was fortunate to find here , I feel confident that I would not be alone in setting FACTS and means of expression so kosher that the “other” parties would regret starting the “conversation”.

    True, I DO NOT feel exactly the same confidence regarding precisely some of the groisse machers associated with the current objections to the proposed changes and also associated with some other “objectors” from camps so strangely suddenly allied with us

  2. Yet, what if we consider that the removal of Section 18c. Part III would allow certain offended party to reply with ample arguments based on TRUTH which, in effect may “offend” the initial offensive party !

    I feel confident that I could handle publicly any unwanted remarks, deemed even offensive.

    I would gladly engage in public controversies and use reality related expressions to define clearly, and decently, the “other”, offensive parties.
    Part II, Section 9 of the same Act, contains specific prohibitions related to public places. Sure, media is not specifically mentioned, but basic civil rights are protected by it.

    Media is what we create and if we are capable to demonstrate that both the offending parties have no legs to stand on and implicitly, the righteousness of our stance, we have gained a lot more. It means having the guts and intellectual means to handle these kinds of conflicts.

    Question is, who do we know among our own groisse machers that we would trust to be “out there” kicking heads in? Name me ONE such valiant CEO, Director, President etc.

    In fact, like it or not, the numbers are there to make the changes, quite irrespective of the “impressive” list of unlike “associates” in the objections to the changes.

    I know a few of the signatories who would be VERY uncomfortable with some of the imminent remarks regarding their traditional proclivities……………….

  3. I doubt the intent of the proposed reform is to ‘water down protections’ but rather to safeguard against abuses.Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes speech illegal if it is likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race, nationality or ethnic origin. The thing is – it’s very subjective. People may be overly sensitive and ordinary speech may ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ when that was not the intention at all. Some facts offend people. My Iraqi friend said openly to me ‘violence is just part of our culture and religion’. Yet if I, as a non-Iraqi repeat that, it may be considered offensive, insulting or humiliating…how far does it go? At the end of the day, perhaps these laws are only required when we don’t share common core values and an appreciation of the rights of others to speak openly and honestly. And while more and more reverse racism is occurring – vilifying ‘white Australians’ who are often portrayed as Red-neck, racist, etc…no laws deal with reverse racism. (And I’m not actually lobbying for that) The answer I believe, is fostering common core values and genuine reciprocal tolerance where we can speak honestly and openly, and even have a joke, without fear of litigation.

  4. Vicky,

    watering down is anything BUT safeguarding against abuse. Please reconsider.
    Also, “the endof the day” is not upon us…………….yet, otherwise it would be………………..the end of the day. with all its consequences.

    Everything we do, as in before the end of the day, is subjective, trust me and shall trust you on this one too.
    Society functions, when it functions, on agreed norms. If the agreement is not respected penalties apply. If you read the Act, Section 18c does not even imply penalties. Part II, Section 9 DOES.
    In any case we do not even know ( or I don’t anyway ) the contents of the “watering down”.

    • 18C cannot be touched. We wouldn’t stand a chance at getting a conviction as we did in the case of Frederick Toben without it.

      • YOU ARE ABSOLUTELY RIGHT, SHIRLEE
        and I am dreaded to be seen that I would agree with its removal.
        It looks like the changes have not been formulated yet and the AG Brandis is still consulting all concerned parties, the Jewish community included.

        I suspect that provisions which allowed the Toben case to proceed, for instance, will remain. It may be a case of degrees and limits which, once transgressed will carry the same legal weight as currently. Holocaust denial, for instance, cannot be allowed in Australia under any form by any responsible Government and the Coalition could not be even suspected of such an unethical stance.

        • Otto they won’t remain. Why do you think there is such an uproar? Just about every journalist has written about it, why do you thinkso many groups are with the ECAJ? Even the Sydney Morning Herald

          . Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First
          Peoples
          . 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

  5. I was talking about intent Otto. People cannot build relationships of trust if they are not free to speak openly and honestly. I would have thought in western civilisation freedom of speech was an agreed norm and is an extension of freedom of conscience and belief. I believe if we are to protect these great freedoms we do not need to legislate against them but rather foster a renewed decency towards others. (We don’t need to be rude just because we can). ‘Likely to’…offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ – that’s very loose. I have read on this blog how many people are actually offended and insulted by the show ‘Legally Brown’ – and I agree it’s offensive – yet I don’t agree we should therefore drag Mr Hussain before the courts. It’s the double standards that offend me Otto – these laws aren’t designed for everyone – mocking the majority in Australia is OK. I think we should encourage people to be bigger on the inside and ‘turn the other cheek’ when offended – (part of our culture) and not promote a society of litigation but of forgiveness and real reciprocal tolerance. Our society has always valued freedom as a concept and it is this I believe that needs to be safeguarded – to sacrifice this to safeguard people from feeling offended – is too much to ask I think. As I previously said – truth is sometimes offensive but the pursuit of it is so intimately acquainted with freedom.

  6. Shirlee

    Sorry, but not for a second would I believe that, in this day and age, any Australian political entity would allow this country to become an ethical jungle.
    Originally the tiff was fuelled by a certain journalist who was taken to court and loss because he dared make some off the cuff commnents about certain people claiming to be something based on very improbable evidence.
    Our, Jewish interests are way different to that kind of claims and counter-attack.

    On the other hand I just preffer to be weary of some communal groups bearing resemblance to our, Jewish, concerns. We need to ask ourselves what is so and so doing sharing the same platform with us…………….
    I’ll say no more !

    ( I just lied )

  7. Otto if you are speaking of Andrew Bolt, I am not. We are speaking here about Frederick Toben. If that law hadn’t been in place we wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of having the Holocaust denial removed from his web site.

    Recently too the OHPI used this same section to get Facebook to remove certain content.

    • Once gain, Shirlee, I fully agree with you , but I am suggesting that the “watering down” will not remove the provisions which allowed for the “Tobem case” to be activated.

      • Otto, do me a favour and let it be. I think all these legal heads know better than you. The ECAJ now consists of people with brilliant legal minds. By that I do not mean PW either.

  8. Well, Shirlee, we are all dealing right now only with assumptions and I trust my own (non-legal) judgement.

  9. I had an anonymous comment in my inbox not displayed here that ended with this paragraph: Quote: Incidentally the low grade moronic clown you find amusing is urinating straight into your pocket when being “funny” about the majority in a country which has helped his kind survive the horrors of a “culture” based PRECISELY on what you find so cute and acceptable.
    It seems that his kind run away from terror only to introduce it where it was not before, all in the spirit of tolerance within multi………….what, CULTURE ???!!!
    Define again, if you can, the “double standards”…..all I could see at you is one standard only and me not impressed.

    My reply to anonymous (perhaps I’ll use the pseudonym ‘misunderstood’) :
    1. I dont find the low grade moronic clown (assume you are talking about Nazeem Hussain) funny at all.
    2. I don’t find indecency or being rude to others ”cute or acceptable’.
    3. ‘what culture’ you say – well you see though I am very familiar with name-calling at ‘local courts’ (something anonymous said I should be familiar with to have a reality check) this is the base end of humanity and not what i would define as our culture at all. But I don’t find the need to lower myself to the same level of abuse when confronted with it. That’s ‘turning the other cheek’ and has indeed been a part of our culture.
    4. Double standards: Lets try having ‘Christian only’ swimming in Australia…(Who would want it of course – but Muslim only – no problem, that’s not discrimination its ‘culture’). I attended an anti-racism strategy meeting to be told by someone at my table who didn’t support my views that ‘anyway – white is not a race’…oh – ‘so what is it then I asked’…I now know that apparently white is a ‘construct’. I gather discounting constructs views is not racist because they are not a race…that sort of thing anonymous.

  10. My email inbox Shirley – I found it rather odd but then my email is quite public