Aboriginal, ethnic, religious and community groups: Australia must retain strong and effective protections against racial vilification

Racism remains widespread in the community and important protections against racial vilification must be retained in Australian law, says a broad coalition of organisations.

In a joint letter sent to the Attorney-General today, more than 150 organisations from all around Australia have highlighted the critical role that the Racial Discrimination Act has long played in combating racial hatred and protecting individuals and groups against discrimination and hate speech.

The organisations represent a wide range of Aboriginal, ethnic, religious, community and legal groups and include leading organisations such as Amnesty International Australia, the Australian Council of Social Services, Oxfam Australia, the Lowitja Institute and the Refugee Council of Australia.

"Racist hate speech has no place in Australia,” said Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre. “Current laws prohibiting racial vilification provide essential protection to individuals and communities against racist hate speech."

Community groups are concerned that any repeal of these provisions would produce a situation in which there are no clear limits for racist hate speech in Australia. “Racial hatred causes serious harm to individuals and the current law balances freedom of speech with freedom from vilification,” said Mr de Kretser.

"Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples experience racism and hate speech on a regular basis,” explained Rodney Dillon, Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Campaigner. “Strong legal protections send a clear message that racist hate speech is not acceptable and that people who experience such treatment will be protected by the law."

"The repeal of section 18C would be incredibly damaging, sending a signal that hate speech is acceptable and allowing racism to get a foothold in our proudly multicultural nation,” said Joe Caputo, Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia. “Ethnic communities, and indeed all members of our community, need legal protection against vilification, harassment and intimidation."

"Whether you are on a sporting field or walking down the street, racism and racial vilification have no role to play in our community. It is unacceptable and it causes harm to that person and their family, it cuts to the core of who that person is,” said AFL footballer Adam Goodes.

"Several high profile incidents in recent years demonstrate that we still have a long way to go as a community and that laws protecting people from racial vilification are necessary,” said Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO of Australian Council of Social Services.

"This isn’t about hurt feelings and offence, these laws protect against serious acts of hate that cause harm to individuals and diminish us as a community. It’s time for us to unite and stand up for the richness and diversity that makes our country great,” said Dr Goldie.

"Our racial discrimination laws are an important part of what makes us a fair, decent society – stripping them away after one misreported case isn’t the answer,” said Priscilla Brice from All Together Now.

Click here for further quotes
Click here for background information on Australia's racial vilification laws
Click here for a copy of the joint letter and list of endorsing organisations

A full media pack is available here


Further information about freedom of expression and freedom from racial hatred and the racial vilification provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act, including fact sheets, media commentary and papers and speeches, is available at http://www.hrlc.org.au/racial-vilification-protections.

Media conference

Deakin University Melbourne City Centre, Level 3, 550 Bourke Street, Melbourne
1:15pm Tuesday 10 December 2013

Joe Caputo, Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA)
Neighbours star Menik Gooneratne
Hip-hop artist L-FRESH The Lion
Human Rights Law Centre's Hugh de Kretser
All Together Now's Priscilla Brice


For further information or comments contact:
Ben Schokman, Director of International Advocacy, on 0403 622 810 or ben.schokman@hrlc.org.au