We have read with growing concern that the Federal government has plans to remove or water down the protections against racial vilification which presently extend to Australians of all backgrounds under the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). This would be a step backwards for Australia. We oppose absolutely any such change.
The proposal to change the RDA is being put forward in the name of free speech. Vilifying entire groups of people because of their race has nothing to do with free speech. To be vilified because of one’s ethnicity or national origin hurts one’s ability to participate fully in society.
Belonging to a racially vilified group can undermine and ultimately destroy the sense of safety and security with which one goes about one’s daily life. And, paradoxically for free speech advocates, racial vilification can have a silencing effect on those who are vilified. Racial vilification deprives its targets of equal treatment and a fair go. This is what makes it un-Australian. Australia should not contemplate going down the path of licensing racial vilification.
The cultural diversity of Australia’s people is a great source of our nation’s strength. It also imposes an obligation on government to protect and encourage social cohesion. Failure to do so can have very serious if not catastrophic consequences for our society. A change to the RDA would send a signal that racism is acceptable.
Freedom of speech is fundamental to our liberal democratic society. But any right to free speech has its limits. For example, we have well-established laws against defamation, misleading advertising and the transmission of offensive material through the post. Freedom does not mean the license of individuals to do just as they please because that would ultimately result in the destruction of freedom. The RDA strikes a careful balance between freedom of expression and freedom from racial vilification.
We urge the Attorney-General to consult with us and other stakeholder communities before any Bill is introduced into the Parliament.
- Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker, Co-chairs, National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
- Randa Kattan, CEO, Arab Council Australia
- John Petropolous, President, Australian Hellenic Council
- Peter Wertheim, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry
- Patrick Voon, President, Chinese Australian Forum
- Dr Thang Ha, Vietnamese Community in Australia
- Samir Dandan, President, Lebanese Muslim Association
- Vache H. Karamenian, Executive Director, Armenian National Council of Australia
- Maha Krayem Abdo, Executive Officer, United Muslim Women Association
- Priscilla Brice-Weller, CEO, All Together Now