Proposed exemptions licence the promotion of racial discrimination and hatred

The Human Rights Law Centre strongly criticised proposed new racial vilification legislation released earlier today by Attorney-General George Brandis.

“These changes would significantly water down important laws that protect against the harm that flows from racial vilification,” said HRLC Executive Director Hugh de Kretser.

“Putting the debate around racial offence and insults to one side, our biggest concern is the gaping hole introduced by the public discourse exemption. There’s not much protection left when you see that the laws wouldn’t apply in private nor in public discussion on a wide range of matters. Anyone with a blog, megaphone or a twitter account will seemingly be given a licence to racially vilify.”

Under the changes, the words “offend, insult and humiliate” would be deleted from the existing laws. “Vilify” would be inserted but narrowly defined and the existing protection against “intimidation” would also be given a new narrow definition. The drafting of the community standards test opens up the prospect of perpetuating prejudice. The existing free speech exemptions for fair comment, fair reporting and artistic and scientific works would be over-inflated and greatly expanded to include “public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.” Importantly, the requirements for “reasonableness” and “good faith” in the exemptions would be removed.

“It’s hard to imagine any racial topic that would be outside the realms of this extraordinarily broad exemption,” said Mr de Kretser.

“The Attorney’s claim that these proposed laws would provide the strongest ever protection against racism under Federal legislation is astonishing and not backed by any basic analysis. Overall, these changes substantially weaken the existing protection.”

“It’s fine to review these laws after almost 20 years operation to ensure they are working properly and appropriately balance free speech against the harm that flows from racial vilification. The government could have looked at codifying the court decisions that have interpreted these laws sensibly and sought to ensure they only captured serious instances of offence and insult as well as intimidation and humiliation. These proposed changes tip the balance too far the wrong way. At least the changes have been released as an exposure draft as it will allow the substantial problems to be identified and amended, so long as the Government approaches the consultation in good faith.”

For more information: Hugh de Kretser 0403 965 340