Section 18C: The Ethnic Community Council has its say
The Ethnic Communities Council of NSW has written to all its members urging them to send letters to the Federal Attorney-General and to the NSW Attorney-General to support efforts to combat racial vilification.
The appeal calls for support for the two submissions made by the ECC following a unanimous resolution made by the Members Forum at a meeting of over 50 members last week. The Forum heard a summary of the current legislative issues from ECAJ Adviser Ian Lacey, and it also recalled the history of the Racial Hatred law, when the NSW Consultation on the federal Bill was held in 1996 at the ECC premises. The 1996 Consultation was alarge, vigorous and lively assembly which was chaired by Anti-Racism Task Force Convenor Josie Lacey (now ECAJ Life Member), and it was followed by governmentdiscussions with the ECC as the Bill passed through the Commonwealth Parliament.
The current letter to the Federal Attorney-General from ECC President Peter Doukasexpresses concern at “reported proposals to diminish the protection against racial harassment and vilification afforded by Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.” It notes that the present law has little to do with freedom of speech, and that it provides civil remedies for “offensive behaviour because of race, colour, or national or ethnic origin”.
The submission expresses the view that ”any reduction in the protection afforded by the law for our member communities would send a message that the Australian Government is losing the will to provide legislative remedies which contribute to the preservation of our uniquely harmonious and culturally diverse society.”
It concludes that “The members of our communities have a right to live their lives in freedom from insult, humiliation and intimidation on the ground of their ethnic identity, and we look to the Government to continue to assist in maintaining that right.”
The second submission, to the NSW Attorney-General, notes that there has not been a single prosecution since the serious vilification provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act came into force in 1990. The ECC therefore ”applauds the recommendation of Law and Justice Committee of the Legislative Council, that in cases of serious racial vilification involving a threat of physical harm, the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner should have the power to refer the matter directly to the police without requiring the consent of the Attorney-General.”
(By way of historical record, it is notable that the anti-vilification provisions of the Act were passed in 1989, but were not immediately proclaimed. It was only after a personal meeting by ECC President Ross Tzannes and Vice-President Josie Lacey with Premier Nick Greiner, that the proclamation took place.)
The current submission concludes that “the members of our communities have a right to live their lives in freedom from the incitement of hatred or serious contempt or ridicule on the ground of their ethnic identity, and we appreciate the Government’s action in helping to maintain that right.”