The new Attorney General Brad Hazzard has disappointed many with his unexplained deferral of the NSW Government’s response to the important and –in the current context- highly significant report of the standing committee on law and justice into NSW racial vilification laws. This was given to the Government in December 2013 and its response has been awaited for some time.
The committee had been asked by the Government to inquire into whether Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act which created the offence of serious racial vilification was effective and if it established a realistic test, in line with community expectations, for the offence of racial vilification. It was also asked to advise on any improvements to Section 20D ‘having regard to the continued importance of freedom of speech”.
There was no radical shift proposed by the report. The committee unanimously made a number of modest recommendations for improvements mainly focussed on removing ‘procedural impediments’ to successful criminal prosecution for serious racial vilification. The absence of any successful criminal prosecutions under the Act had been cited by the then Premier Barrie O’Farrell as the main driver for the inquiry.
NSWCCL had recommended stronger changes to Section 20D in its submission but we did not oppose the report. Its recommendations, though modest, were positive. Also, by the time the report was released, it was clear from Senator Brandis’ statements that a serious attack on racial vilification laws was underway from the new Attorney-General of Australia.
The community disappointment with the AG’s deferment of any Government response to this report has an added element of surprise given the strong and consistent position taken by the NSW Government in opposition to the Brandis proposals. It was heartening that Premier Baird has strongly reiterated his predecessors position:
‘At the time I took over as Premier, the Australian community was debating proposed changes to federal racial discrimination laws. As has been covered in this column previously, Mr O’Farrell had taken a strong stand against the proposal and I want to make it clear that I share this position.
‘We have such a rich and diverse network of communities in NSW and what I have been hearing in recent weeks is that many people are worried about these proposed changes. I want our ethnic communities to know that we are prepared to stand up for them because we’re prepared to stand up for what we think is right.’ (J-Wire Jewish online news 11/5/2014)
We can only assume that the strength of the community fury against the Brandis proposals and the sharp contrast between the NSW and the Australian Governments’ views on such a fundamental rights and freedoms issue has put the NSW Premier - and therefore his AG - in a difficult position with his federal colleagues.
NSWCCL urges Premier Baird and AG Hazzard to be brave and to move ahead to implement the modest but sound recommendations of the parliamentary committee’s report to improve some aspects of the NSW racial vilification laws. The community will be overwhelmingly with you.