Section 18C: Religion goes on the front foot

March 7, 2014 by J-Wire
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A letter to Senator George Brandis, the Federal Attorney-General…

Senator George Brandis

Senator George Brandis

The Australian Partnership of Religious Organisations comprises representatives appointed by the peak bodies of seven major religions in Australia, as well as national-level multicultural and interfaith community organisations and academics with expertise in inter-faith and intercultural relations. A list of our member organisations is attached.

Our aims include the promotion and advocacy of interfaith harmony and understanding and respect between the adherents of the various religions in Australia, and action to combat religious prejudice and discrimination. We see the preservation of harmony in Australia’s culturally diverse society as associated with these objectives.

We thank you for the opportunity to confer with your advisers last Wednesday 26 February. We also appreciate the invitation by your Deputy Chief of Staff to put into writing our concern about proposals to diminish the protection afforded by Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

We believe that the provision of civil remedies for offensive behaviour on the ground of race, colour or national or ethnic origin has proved to be a useful tool for the preservation of national harmony in the nineteen years since it was proclaimed. One valuable element of the remedy is the initial process of conciliation, which often leads to formal retraction and apology, and occasional compensation. Where this is successful it provides both vindication for the complainants and a discouragement of further offensive activity by the perpetrators. This is a process which could be improved by expediting the various procedures.

Our view is that the existence of section 18C has value as a declaration by the government that all Australians are entitled to be protected against racial abuse in its various forms, and for that reason we submit that there should be no reduction of the scope of that protection.

The issue of “freedom of speech” has been widely canvassed as a reason for re- visiting section 18C. While we recognise the vital importance of the promotion and

protection of freedom of speech, we would note that the section does not purport to limit the exchange of ideas, and that it only addresses offensive behaviour. It follows that if speech or writing does not offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate, then it is not limited by the section. There is also, of course, the exemption in Section 18D for fair comment on a matter of public interest.

We understand that much of the motivation for the proposals being considered comes from the Andrew Bolt Case. However, we do not believe that the fact that a judgment is highly controversial is a reason for reducing the protection afforded by the law. It should rather be seen as a difficult case, as reflected in the minimal nature of the orders made.

We understand that consideration is being given to criminal sanctions for serious vilification. We strongly support such a proposal, but we would not like to see such a provision as a substitute for a useful non-criminal remedy.

We hope that this representation will assist the government in coming to a decision, and we look forward to hearing from you.



National Council of Churches in Australia
Muslims Australia (Australian Federation of Islamic Councils)

Executive Council of Australian Jewry

Australian Sangha Association
Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils
Hindu Council of Australia
Australian Baha’i Community
Sikh Community

Associate Members:

Religions for Peace Australia Australian Multicultural Foundation Settlement Council of Australia

Academic and community advisors:
UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations, Asia Pacific


One Response to “Section 18C: Religion goes on the front foot”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    Now, this is a much better approach, yet too short and, in a way, timid.
    All relevant points should have been developed with more intensity in their necessity as well as the effect the reduction of the impact of principles of 18C and D would have on society.
    I am not so sure about the rationale of the “complexity” of the Bolt case as reflected by the degree of the penalties given.
    One of the most important tactics in the exercise is the public exposure of the proponents for change. As the reasons given fo the “necessity” of change, specially by the flippant attitude at Tim Wilson, are so incredibly easily assailable, public debates ( here SBS could be useful to us for a change ) will elicit most categorically the incredibly poor position of the case for the Govt. It is more than obvious that nobody representing the Gov. view is anxious to develop publicly the issues, as nothing of what I suggest i.e. intense public debate, has taken place so far.
    Talking only to the convinced cannot be of much help at all.

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