AIJAC and The Australian

March 10, 2014 by J-Wire
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The Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council has responded to an editorial in The Australian supporting the repeal of Section 18C of the Race Discrimination Act.

Executive director of AIJAC Dr Colin Rubesnstein sent the following letter to The Australian:

Your editorial (6/3) correctly states that, “A free and robust exchange of ideas is essential to democracy” and laudably chastises University of Sydney academic Jake Lynch for attempting to stifle any such exchange via his discriminatory boycotts of Israeli academics. However, its call for the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs council to also abandon our support for section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act was a complete non-sequiter.

18C poses no threat to the exchange of ideas in democracy. It makes no ideas unlawful – it is concerned only with conduct done because of someone’s race which would cause them “serious and profound” emotional harm. It offers extremely robust defences in section 18D exempting all academic, artistic and scientific work, and any statement, publication or discussion done for any genuine purpose in the public interest.

Your editorial’s assertion that, “Causing offence should not be a crime” involves a complete misunderstanding of how this legislation actually works. 18C creates no criminal offences   – its purpose is to give civil recourse to people when bigots diminish the quality of their lives through deliberate racial harassment and intimidation, primarily through conciliation.

If the Australian is genuinely concerned about laws which create a “crime” of causing offense, their ire would be better directed at the various state Summary Offences Acts, all of which criminalise “offensive language”.

18C’s impact should be seen as a whole over its 18 year history and the numerous cases in which it has been employed and not through the singular prism of the Bolt case. The provision has been used effectively against some of the most toxic individuals in this country, and has thus repeatedly contributed constructively to social cohesion and harmony in Australia. While we remain open to a review of the law and perhaps modest changes designed to enhance its effectiveness, 18C has been a lynch pin of Australia’s successful multicultural project, and to remove it entirely is likely to give succour to racists and return victims of racial victimisation to a situation where they have no legal recourse.


The letter was edited.



2 Responses to “AIJAC and The Australian”
  1. One problem with section 18C that Colin Rubenstein’s letter did not address is that as it now stands it is capable of covering not only “bigots [who] diminish the quality of their [people’s] lives through deliberate racial harassment and intimidation” but also comments, by people who could not be termed “bigots”, that MAY cause offence, without evidence that offence has been caused, but with the “authorities” to determine this highly subjective matter. As a former legislator, I am reluctant to endow anyone with that power to limit a freedom of speech that is central to our way of life.
    In addition, by (accurately) denying The Australian’s inference that the section makes comments “an offence” in strictly legal terms, Dr Rubenstein ignores the “penalty” by way of potential reputational damage, of an adverse finding.
    History demonstrates that the traditional ultimate victims of laws diminishing individual rights and freedoms have been the Jews.

  2. Paul Winter says:

    Defending 18C while demanding that the Bolt incident be dismissed is disingenuous. The misuse of 18C is the very reason why 18C must be changed. Another very powerful reason to change 18C is the offensiveness and deceit of anti-Israel gangs on uni campuses who are free to intimidate and harass Jewish students and are allowed to get away with it. There is a great need to have laws that penalise publicly proclaiming lies like there being some country called Palestine that Israel is not only occupying, but doing so illegally. We, the people of the book, committed to seeking justice must not stand idly by while people tell lies and defend their words by claiming freedom of speech. Such “freedom” limits my freedom.

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