The particular concern is around the proposed abolition of Section 18c which makes it unlawful for a person to do or say something (other than in private) that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
Senator George Brandis has stated that section 18C stands in the way of “free speech”, and this is the central reason why it should be abolished however artistic works and journalism (created reasonably and in good faith) are already exempt from the provision of the Act under Section 18D.
Section 18C solely targets racist publications and remarks made in public, in bad faith, likely to offend; i.e. purely hurtful and hateful racist remarks and in 2012-13, the Australian Human Rights Commission received 192 complaints of racial hatred under Section 18C.
The letter to the Attorney General pointed out that while the right to freedom of speech is fundamental to our democracy but it is not absolute.
The letter pointed out “Australian laws place limits on our speech and expression in areas like defamation, false advertising, sexual harassment and threats to kill”
Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre Hugh de Kretser said racist hate speech has no place in Australia.
“Laws prohibiting racial vilification provide essential protection to individuals and communities that continue to experience racist hate speech,” he said.
Recent research shows that nearly 80% of Australians support the current laws against racial vilification.
The signatories included a wide range of Aboriginal, ethnic, religious, community and legal groups and asked the Australian Government to demonstrate its commitment to the diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious communities that make up the rich fabric of our multicultural nation by ruling out any repeal of the racial vilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Their letter also stressed the obligation Australia has under international law to prohibit acts that promote racial hatred and that repealing these provisions will produce a situation in which there are no clear limits for racist hate speech in Australia.
The Uniting Church believes that strong and effective protections against racial vilification must be maintained and that any changes to the laws should only be undertaken with extreme caution and should involve a comprehensive public consultation process.
You can add you voice to this call by talking to or writing/emailing your local Federal Member of Parliament. Talking points and a draft text for a letter are available.