Senator Brandis meets ethnic community leaders

January 16, 2014 by J-Wire Staff
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With the review of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act a contentious issue leading into the next session of Parliament, Attorney-General Senator George Brandis has met this week with leaders of various ethnic communities.

 

L-r Les Malezer, George Vardas, Peter Wertheim, George Vellis, Kirstie Parker. Patrick Voon, Soteris Tsouris

L-r Les Malezer, George Vardas, Peter Wertheim, George Vellis, Kirstie Parker. Patrick Voon, Soteris Tsouris

The following community representatives met yesterday in Sydney with  Senator George Brandis, his Senior Advisor, James Lambie, and his Deputy Chief of Staff, Josh Faulks.

Ms Kirstie Parker, Co-chair, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

Mr Les Malezer, Co-chair, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

Mr Michael Charlton, Policy Advisor, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples

Mr George Vellis, Co-ordinator, Australian Hellenic Council

Mr Peter Wertheim, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry

Mr George Vardas, Secretary & Legal Consultant, Australian Hellenic Council

Mr Patrick Voon, President, Chinese Australian Forum

Soteris Tsouris, President, Cyprus Community of NSW

Apologies were received from Ms Randa Kattan, CEO, Arab Council Australia, and Mr Tony Pang, Secretary, Chinese Australian Services Society, both of whom attended the first consultation with the Attorney General in Canberra on 9 December 2013.

The community representatives present issued the following statement:

“We commend the Attorney General for honouring his commitment to consult with our communities before introducing any draft legislation to alter the provisions of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act. Whereas our first meeting with the Attorney General focused on the relevant principles and policies, today’s discussion was mainly about the detailed legislative provisions.”

“We told the Attorney General that the case has not been made for the words in section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act to be changed. The concerns that have been expressed about the impact of section 18C on freedom of expression are based on misapprehensions about the way the law has been interpreted and applied by the courts. We believe that these concerns can be allayed by codifying certain matters that are dealt with in the case law.”

“In particular, whilst it is clearly incorrect as a matter of law to assert, as some have, that section 18C requires the application of a “subjective test based on hurt feelings”, the role of community standards in applying the objective test in section 18C could be clarified, as was apparently intended when Part IIA was introduced in 1995. The codification could also make clear that section 18C is contravened only if the offence, insult, humiliation or intimidation on the ground of race is serious and substantial, and not merely light or trivial.”

“We also told the Attorney General that we support the current system for resolving racial vilification complaints initially through compulsory conciliation. In the vast majority of cases, such complaints have been successfully conciliated or resolved by direct negotiations between the parties. Frivolous or vexatious complaints are quickly dismissed. Only a small number of cases have gone to court. This framework has proven to be an inexpensive, just and efficient way of resolving complaints.”

“It is entirely appropriate that the laws applying in Australia be kept under public scrutiny and publicly debated. We ask only that the debate be informed and that the current law not be misrepresented. The evidence-based policy reasons that led to the introduction of Part IIA by the Australian Parliament are as compelling as ever.”

“To be vilified because of one’s ethnicity or national origin which, unlike beliefs or ideas, are factors which one cannot change, is to be made a social pariah. This can impact negatively on one’s relationships with neighbours, work-mates, friends, acquaintances and others with whom one needs to interact.”

“Belonging to a group which is racially vilified in public can undermine and ultimately destroy the sense of safety and security with which members of the group go about their daily lives.”

“Those who advocate an absolutist position on free speech paradoxically overlook the fact that racial vilification can have an intimidating silencing effect on those who are vilified. It deprives its targets of equal treatment and a fair go. It also disempowers those vilified and has the effect of excluding them from society, either wholly or in part.”

“The need to balance freedom of expression with freedom from racial vilification is no mere matter of theory in contemporary Australia. In the answers given to the question on Ancestry in the 2011 Census, more than 300 ancestry groups were separately identified. The Census also showed that more than 40% of Australians were born overseas or had at least one parent who was born overseas.”

“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 would have very serious if not catastrophic consequences for our society, the economy, law and order and security.”

 

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