Speaking out: Adam Goodes, who is a White Ribbon ambassador, opposes changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. Photo: Brendan Esposito
Australian of the Year and AFL star Adam Goodes has slammed the Abbott government's proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, claiming they attacked the most vulnerable Australians.
The Sydney Swans veteran said the changes were unnecessary - ''I don't see that the system is broken'' - and thought the freedom of speech guaranteed in existing legislation would be removed by the mooted amendments.
As a White Ribbon Ambassador since 2009, Goodes had focused his attention on domestic violence against women but last month, when the Attorney-General, George Brandis, defended the right to be a bigot, he posted a few non-committal observations on Twitter.
''There are great bits in RDA that [say] everyone has the right to the freedom of speech,'' Goodes said.
''Some wording is proposed to be taken out. This is clearly disappointing. Freedom of speech is clearly written into the RDA that we have. The fear now is for people who are in this country and are part of minorities and don't have the support that I've had - like refugees at their own workplace - who are facing this type of abuse,'' he said.
''What protections do those minorities have in the new RDA that is proposed? What system will be in place that can help them to say: 'You know what? I've got this Racial Discrimination Act act here, and I'm going to report you because what you're doing to me is wrong.'''
Goodes said the laws were there for people who did not have the support or the means to get themselves out of that situation without getting a higher authority to do something legally. Last May Goodes came to personify the state of racial vilification in Australia when he was called an ''ape'' by a 13-year-old girl during the match between Collingwood and the Swans at the MCG.
''Under the old legislation I still didn't charge her,'' Goodes said. ''I accepted her apology and that was it. That was my choice.'' Within days of the MCG insult, Collingwood president, and radio and television host Eddie McGuire likened the Brownlow medallist to King Kong during his breakfast radio program.
Goodes then revealed that he too had been damaged by domestic violence. Goodes was born in Adelaide in 1980, the eldest of three boys. His parents, Lisa May and Graham, separated when he was four. Graham moved to Queensland. Lisa May, a member of the Stolen Generation, kept the boys.
One night in 1992, fighting again broke out between his alcohol-affected stepfather and his mother, and the 12-year-old Goodes went to a phone box and dialled triple-0. The police came, the shouting stopped.
Goodes said his stepfather did not harm his mother physically but his constant emotional and verbal abuse hurt the whole family.
''It's so true that emotional violence and words can be damaging in other ways because it is constant,'' he said. ''There was no respite.''
Goodes said his stepfather thought neighbours had complained to police. But the turmoil inside the 12-year-old boy echoes down the years.
''I agreed to do this article because White Ribbon are a fantastic organisation and because of the domestic violence I'd seen growing up,'' he said. ''Seeing domestic violence is something you don't want other people - children - to go through and I think being in the position I am in now, I find it really important to keep raising awareness about the work that White Ribbon does and the role that us, as men, play in domestic violence, whether it be us being the perpetrators or us helping our friends and family members, having conversations with them when they get angry and not letting it get to the next step.''