25 March 2014
The President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Robert Goot AM SC, today issued the following statement.
“The ECAJ regards the Exposure Draft of the repeal of ss18B, C, D and E of the Racial Discrimination Act, released by the Attorney General today, as deeply flawed.
The Government proposal in effect rips up key protections to groups within Australian society which have operated successfully for almost 20 years and which have contributed in no small measure to the building and maintaining of an harmonious Australian society.
Whilst the substantial weakening of s18C by removing “humiliate”, “offend” and “insult” and by severely limiting protection to vilification and intimidation and substantially narrowly defining those terms (unlike their ordinary meanings), to mean respectively “to incite hatred” or “to cause fear of physical harm”, is alarming enough, the inclusion of sub-section (4), will have the effect of removing most, if not all of, the protection, inadequate though it is, in sub-section (1).
Sub-section (4) provides that the entire section will not apply to
“…words, sounds, images written, spoken, broadcast or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter".
Further and equally alarming, the existing qualifications to s18C contained in s18D which were protective of free speech, by not rendering unlawful anything said or done “reasonably and in good faith”, have been removed entirely.
Racial bigotry is wrong and harmful to both the people it targets and to the cohesiveness of society as a whole. This legislation gives the green light to unleashing racial hate speech in Australia, no matter how unreasonable and lacking in good faith.
It is hard to envisage any conduct that will be caught by this emasculated legislation. Certainly, it is unlikely that any of the cases which the ECAJ has successfully brought under s18C over the years, could have been instituted, under this proposed legislative regime.
The ECAJ will be making submissions to the Government on the proposed reforms.”