Both s18c of the Race Discrimination Act and the Australian Human Rights Commission are again under serious attack from the Federal Government.
George Brandis’ attempt to weaken s18c in 2014 was soundly repudiated by the Australian people and the then PM (Abbott) wisely retreated and abandoned the amendment. NSWCCL strongly opposed the Brandis Bill and thought the Government unlikely to try again given the depth of community anger aroused by the proposal..
We were misguided. Emboldened by the recent rise of the far right here and overseas – and within the Liberal Party - the Government is now targeting not just the legal protections against racist abuse provided under s18C but also the processes of the AHRC which have served Australia well for 20 plus years.
This new push poses a serious threat to the protections currently provided by the RDA and to the AHRC. We have therefore again joined many others in arguing the case against weakening s18C and in supporting the overwhelmingly positive record of the AHRC in resolving the vast majority of complaints effectively through conciliation while dismissing those that are trivial or vexatious. We are not aware of any cases under the RDA which have unreasonably constrained freedom of speech in Australia.
In December 2016 CCL made a formal submission to the Parliamentary Committee reviewing s18C and the processes of the Commission. We
- opposed any weakening of s18C but supported a clarifying amendment that would bring it into line with case law interpretation (repeal ‘to offend’ and possibly ‘to insult’ and replace with ‘to vilify’)
- strongly supported the Commissions complaint handling processes
- noted there were many other recent laws which do unreasonably undermine freedom of speech and would welcome their repeal or amendment
- called on the Committee to recognize the importance of independent public sector agencies like the AHRC in a robust democracy
We are currently supporting the GetUp ‘#HandsOff 18C’ campaign and recommend members to do so
The Committee is currently holding public hearings on the inquiry and will report to Parliament in late February. We expect the Government will try to bring draft legislation to the Parliament this session.
We urge supporters of the Act and the Human Rights Commission to make their views known to their local member, the AG and the Prime Minister on this matter.