Serious concerns over proposal to weaken race hate speech protections

The Federal Government’s mooted changes to racial vilification protections, reported today in The Australian, have caused serious concern among community organisations that work with people affected by racist hate speech.

The Human Rights Law Centre’s Executive Director, 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. These proposals would substantially weaken the current laws and should be rejected,” said Mr de Kretser.

The provisions currently make unlawful speech that is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people on the basis of their race, but contain exemptions to ensure that certain speech is not prohibited when it is done reasonably and in good faith.

Media reports today indicate that the Federal Government is now considering removing the words “offend, insult and humiliate” from section 18C of the legislation and also removing the requirement that conduct must be done “reasonably and in good faith” to be protected under the exemptions in section 18D.

“We need laws that properly balance the right to free speech against freedom from racial vilification. It is vital that there is strong and effective legal protection against the harm that flows from racist hate speech. These proposals would tip the balance far too much in favour of allowing harmful vilification,” said Mr de Kretser.

A soon to be released academic study suggests the vast majority of Australians support strong and effective protections against racial vilification.

In December last year, over 150 leading community organisations from around Australia wrote to the Attorney‑General, George Brandis QC, urging him not to repeal the racial vilification protections in the Racial Discrimination Act. 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, the Refugee Council of Australia and the Human Rights Law Centre.

A copy of the open letter is available here:

For further information contact Hugh de Kretser on 0403 965 340