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Indigenous, ethnic groups unite against law changes

Intends to consult 'stakeholders and interested parties' over changes to sections of the Racial Discrimination Act: Attorney-General George Brandis.

Intends to consult 'stakeholders and interested parties' over changes to sections of the Racial Discrimination Act: Attorney-General George Brandis. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Tony Abbott is facing a fight against Australia's indigenous, Jewish, Arab, Chinese, Greek, Armenian, Lebanese and Muslim populations, who have united in urging the government not to proceed with announced plans to abolish or weaken race hate laws.

As his first legislative act, Attorney-General George Brandis wants to introduce a bill to change sections of the Racial Discrimination Act that protect ethnic groups against hate speech. He especially dislikes provisions that make it unlawful to offend or insult people on the basis of their race.

Declaring himself a champion of ''freedom'', Senator Brandis has disparaged the laws used against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt over an article he wrote in which he accused ''white'' Australians of identifying as Aborigines to advance their careers.

The head of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Peter Wertheim, said he could not recall ''any other issue on which there has been such unity of purpose and strength of feeling across such a diverse group of communities''.

Jewish leaders have combined in a rare joint protest with prominent ethnic and indigenous leaders.

''We have read with growing concern that the federal government has plans to remove or water down the protections against racial vilification,'' reads the statement signed by the heads of groups including the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples, Arab Council Australia, Chinese Australian Forum, Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Australian Hellenic Council, Lebanese Muslim Association and the Armenian National Council of Australia.

''We oppose absolutely any such change. Paradoxically for free speech advocates, racial vilification can have a silencing effect on those who are vilified.''

Senator Brandis has indicated he appreciates the growing backlash against his ''free speech'' reforms. He sent Fairfax Media a statement in which he promised to consult with ''stakeholders and interested parties … before introducing the legislation''. ''One of my key priorities as Attorney-General is to rebalance the human rights debate in Australia,'' he said.

Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane said weakening the race hate laws would send a dangerous signal. ''There must be strong and effective legal protections against racial vilification,'' he said.

41 comments

  • Apart from Brandis & a small bunch of shock jocks is there any real call for these laws to be changed?

    Commenter
    Sid
    Location
    ACT
    Date and time
    November 21, 2013, 8:00AM
    • The Liebrals have been "Dog whistling" the racists in the community, since Howard was opposition leader to Hawke in the mid 'Eighties. Right wing shock jocks and other mercenaries such as Bolt, perform the necessary function of keeping the Liebrals at arms length from having to actually mouth racism and other bigotry. While guaranteeing their support. The feigned hand wringing, mourning the asylum seekers who perish at sea, while coming up with new ways to administratively torture them, is the classic example.

      Commenter
      cycloniq
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 9:49AM
    • If they're really serious about freedom of speech they should propose an amendment to the constitution for it to be recognised. They don't want to go that far though, they just want their mates like Bolt and Jones to be protected so they can rant away with impunity.

      Commenter
      flo
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 12:12PM
    • Yes. Numerous lawyers, academics and others have, over the years expressed concern at the subject nature of the provision Brandis wants to amend. As it is based on a subjective test, it argubaly represents to high burden on freedom of speech.

      Replacing it with an objective test would be good. The test should not be if the person was offended or insulted, it should be an objective one: would a reasonable person, in the position of the complainant be (and this is where opinions vary) (a) be insulted (b) be ridiculed (c) vilified or (d) subject to increased risk of physical harm as a result of speech designed to incide hatred or violence.

      I think (a) is to low a bar. (d) is too hight. Somewhere between (b) and (c) is about right.

      Commenter
      FD
      Location
      Singapore
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 12:16PM
    • FD with all due respect the reasonable persoon test is and always has been subjective. Who is left to determine what a reasonanle person woul do its a judge. A objective test is one purely based on facts.e.g. did his firing the gun lead to x result.

      Objective tests are only useful after the crime has occured, The whole pointb of these laws is to act as a prevention/deterrent. If anything they should be strenhgthend.

      Commenter
      ltl
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 2:23PM
  • Ignore the thought police please Libs, go ahead and abolish those ridiculous laws.

    Commenter
    Tony H
    Location
    Sydney
    Date and time
    November 21, 2013, 8:03AM
    • Sorry Tony H, even Bogans like yourself could be freely discriminated against under the proposed changes, so support your Bogan brethren and oppose the changes

      Commenter
      Matt
      Location
      Brisvegas
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 9:01AM
    • You are free to tell the truth Tony.

      Bolt got canned for getting his facts wrong, nothing else.

      Commenter
      Paul01
      Location
      Riverina
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 9:12AM
    • Right so condemning racial vilification automatically makes one a thought police? Maybe if you were a (potential) victim of racial vilification you would feel differently.

      Why do the Libs feel its 'freedom of speech' that needs to be protected when it's never been under threat, and not racial discrimination which has been a major issue in Australia?

      Commenter
      Sigh
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 9:38AM
    • @Tony H, you do realise that you can also be racially vilified and that if the laws were repealed, there's nothing you could do to the perpetrator as it would be legal?

      Commenter
      Interesting
      Date and time
      November 21, 2013, 10:45AM

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