Ten ethnic communities release a statement on 18C

November 10, 2016 by J-Wire News Service
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Ten leaders of ethnic communities throughout Australia have released a joint statement in the wake of the Federal government’s announcement of a “Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Speech” in the context of the Racial Discrimination Act.

ECAJ President Robert Goot

ECAJ President Robert Goot

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry is joined by representatives of Armenian, Greek, Indigenous, Indian, Arab, Chinese, Lebanese Muslim, and Vietnamese  communities in the issue of the following statement:

This announcement follows the public debate that has been generated by the case of Prior v Queensland University of Technology & others (the QUT case) and the complaint recently made under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) against political cartoonist Bill Leak.

We do not believe that any case has been made to alter sections 18C and 18D of the RDA. We believe sections 18C and 18D of the RDA strike a careful balance between freedom of expression and freedom from racial vilification. Indeed, the actual result in the QUT case entirely vindicates the correctness of that balance. The decision expressly confirmed that section 18C does not extend to “trivial slights” but requires “profound and serious effects”.

Peter Wertheim

Peter Wertheim

Sections 18C and 18D of the RDA have been key components in the array of legislative and educative tools used by each of our communities in our efforts to counter-act racism. We are deeply concerned that a change to the substantive terms of sections 18C or 18D of the RDA would weaken those efforts and send a signal that a degree of racism in public discourse is now to be considered acceptable.

The cultural diversity of Australia’s people is a great source of our nation’s strength and pride. It also imposes an obligation on government to protect and encourage social cohesion. Failure to do so can have serious if not catastrophic consequences for our society.

Freedom of speech is fundamental to our liberal democratic society but it is not, and has never been, an absolute freedom. Freedom does not mean licensing individuals to do just as they please, because that would ultimately result in the destruction of freedom.

We recognise the legitimate concerns about the complaints handling process that have given rise to some aspects of the current debate. Those concerns focus especially on the incidence and consequences for respondents of unmeritorious complaints.

Whilst there is no evidence whatsoever that the percentage of unmeritorious claims made under section 18C of the RDA is higher than under any other statutory regime for relief, such as the law of defamation, copyright, consumer protection and trade practices, we nevertheless welcome any constructive and appropriate proposal to improve the complaints-handling process and to identify and filter out unmeritorious complaints at an early stage.

In particular we welcome the ideas put forward by Julian Leeser MP, the Member for Berowra, in his address to the Chinese Australian Services Society on 4 November 2016, proposing that the Australian Human Rights Commission Act be amended so as to minimise the likelihood of unmeritorious claims proceeding to court.

We believe these proposals offer a sensible way forward to address the issues that have been highlighted by the QUT case and the complaint against Bill Leak.

Authorised by:

Vache H. Kahramanian, Managing Director, Armenian National Committee of Australia.
George Vellis, Coordinator, Australian Hellenic Council
Robert Goot AM SC, President, and Peter Wertheim AM, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry
Jackie Huggins and Rod Little Chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
Randa Kattan, Chief Executive Officer, Arab Council Australia
John Kennedy President of the United Indian Association
Tony Pang, Vice Chairs/Secretary Chinese Australian Services Society
Samier Dandan, President, Lebanese Muslim Association
Mr Bon Nguyen, President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia
Kenrick Cheah, President, Chinese Australian Forum

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