Communities unite to face change of vilification laws

November 21, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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In the wake of Federal Attorney-General George Brandis’s announcement that the government  is planning to water down sections of the Racial Discrimination Act, ten highly significant ethnic communities have united to protest against the move.

Senator George Brandis

Senator George Brandis

In a statement released to media yesterday the communities have expressed their concern about the changes although Executive Director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim told J-Wire: “I would concede that minor tweaks could apply but nothing that would make a major difference. I would prefer the status quo.”

The communities’ joint statement:

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

The Australian Greens have today backed the call above protect laws against racially-motivated hate speech, saying the Coalition’s plan to weaken protections against racism is shameful.

“The Greens will never support any moves that make it easier to abuse people on the basis of race,” said Senator Richard Di Natale, Greens spokesperson for Multiculturalism.

“Multiculturalism is one of Australia’s greatest success stories but racial vilification is still a reality for too many people in our society. The statement today by the leaders of several groups such as the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Arab Council Australia and Chinese Australian Forum shows that the protections in the Racial Discrimination Act are crucial.“The last thing we need is to be sending signals to the community that any form of racism is acceptable.

“Senator Brandis should be focussing on stamping out racism rather than making laws that help his mates in the media.”

Australian Greens legal affairs spokesperson, Senator Penny Wright, says human rights are at stake.

“The Racial Discrimination Act has served us very well. It strikes the right balance between freedom of speech and protecting people from racial vilification,” Senator Wright said.

“While Tony Abbott and the Coalition are showing a callous disregard for human rights, the Greens will continue to be the leading voice in parliament to create a fairer, more caring society.”

Comments

One Response to “Communities unite to face change of vilification laws”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    Can someone sooooo legally minded explain:

    Is “Part II, Section 9 ” of the “Racial Duscrimination Act good enough to warrant complaints and or legal action on account of the merrits of the proposed “weaker” Section III, Part 18c ??!!

    If Section 18c, as suggested, would allow the current prohibitions, can, an “offended” party retort in the same manner ??!!
    What I am saying with the type of personal confidence which would mittigate that I personally would know how to “handle” any objectionable behaviour, is that if “someone’ would have a go at me in the prejudicial way ,now somehow prohibited, I would tell that person/institution what I think of them in no uncertain terms. It means that I feel that I have sufficient trust in my identity and the manner in which I can defend it. Furthermor, a more open dialectical platform would give me the fair chance of demonstarting how right I am and how incredibly wrong the bastards attacking me are. I would use, as ususal, the type of TRUTH which “normally” offends.
    I can do it, what about yourse, tough guys CEO, Directors, Presidents etc. !!??

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