Farewell changes to 18C

August 5, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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The Abbott government has backed down on plans to water down the Racial Discrimination Act.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said it was a ‘‘leadership call’’ to bin the proposed changes to Section 18C of the act which had been roundly criticised by ethnic community leaders and was unpopular with the wider public

“Leadership is about preserving national identity and the essentials and that is why I have taken this position,” Mr Abbott said.

Last week, Fairfax media revealed the Coalition’s plan to water down race hate laws has been rejected by a marked majority of respondents to a government review.

More than 76 per cent of 4100 submissions to Attorney-General George Brandis’ draft changes to the Racial Discrimination Act were opposed to the proposal – known as the ”Bolt law” after conservative columnist Andrew Bolt.

The government has proposed to wind back section 18C, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone based on their race or ethnicity.

But just 20.5 per cent of submissions were in favour of the changes, according to documents obtained under freedom of information laws by Simon Rice of the Australian National University. Three per cent called for a complete repeal of all racial discrimination protections.

NSW Minister for Citizenship & Communities Victor Dominello welcomed the decision taken today by the Federal Government not to proceed with changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He said: ‘The NSW Government took a lead role in unequivocally opposing the proposed changes to Section 18C.

‘We support the protections currently in place under the Federal Racial Discrimination Act. These protections emphasise the practical importance of multiculturalism – particularly for our Aboriginal, multicultural and multi-faith communities.

‘It was clear that these proposed changes were strongly opposed in communities across NSW.

 

‘I am pleased that the Federal Government has listened to communities and responded to their concerns’, Mr Dominello said.

Leader of the NSW Labor opposition John Robertson said: “Today we have seen a humiliating backflip by Tony Abbott and George Brandis – and a deserved win for multicultural communities and multicultural Australia.

In April, I wrote a letter to the Prime Minister urging him to abandon Attorney General Brandis’ proposal to water down the protections against hate speech and bigotry enshrined in Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

I informed him that NSW Labor would not support these changes under any circumstances.

Removing Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is a change that should never have been contemplated in the first place.

George Brandis’ statement that “people have a right to be bigots” was hurtful and offensive and will go down in history as a lowpoint of this Liberal administration.

The Liberal Government sought to fix laws that aren’t broken – and as a result caused great distress among multicultural communities across NSW and Australia.

Sensible protections against racism and hate speech are a pillar of Australia’s success as a multicultural society.

Today is a victory for the thousands of Australians who stood up together and sent the Liberal Government a clear message – racial vilification and race hate speech is not acceptable.

NSW Labor will never allow the Abbott Government to water down these laws – and nor will the community.

Executive Director of The Executive Council of Australian Jewry Peter Wertheim told J-Wire: “The Prime Minister has made a wise decision.  No real case was ever made to justify repealing or weakening section 18C.  It was an uphill battle at times to refute the continual attempts to mischaracterise sections 18C and 18D, and the way the courts have applied these sections.  But the truth won out.  The extraordinarily large number of written submissions received by the Federal government opposing its proposed changes indicate that most Australians understand that racial vilification laws are a necessary last resort for the targets of race hate to defend themselves.  Although we were disturbed by the possibility of our legal protections being diminished, the extended public debate about the legislation has had a salutary educative effect in the wider community, and this can only be for the good in the long term.”

 

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