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The Coalition to Advance Multiculturalism

The Coalition to Advance Multiculturalism

21 March 2017

The Turnbull Government’s decision to pursue the watering down of protections against racial vilification is utterly shameful and at odds with the principles of multicultural Australia.

It flies in the face of the overwhelming majority of submissions presented to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. It ignores the views of the overwhelming majority of the ethnic, cultural and religious communities that are often the victims of abuse motivated by prejudice and xenophobia.

We will oppose this latest attempt to amend Section 18C with all the energy and resources at our collective disposal.

We regard the argument in favour of weakening the legislation to be without substance. There is no evidence to suggest that the existing legislation impedes freedom of speech. If the government was genuine about freedom of speech, why the deafening silence on the many other pieces and legislation and areas of policy which severely restrict freedom of speech and other civil liberties.

Racial and religious vilification violates the dignity of Australians, inhibits their ability to participate in Australian communal life, and severely damages the social fabric which is the indispensable bedrock on which are built our freedoms and civil liberties.

The proposal to replace ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ with ‘harass’ is fundamentally flawed. There has been no case made to amend Section 18C. The relevant cases which have reached the court, including the QUT matter, were struck down for not even breaching Section 18C. Had the Bill Leak cartoon matter been pursued, it would almost certainly have been afforded the broadprotections of Section 18D. The issues which were the impetus for the inquiry only relate to matters of the processes of the Australian Human Rights Commission. To fix matters of process, the focus should be on the Australian Human Rights Commission Act.

Indeed, Section 18C already imposes demanding conditions before it is found to breached. Courts have interpreted the legislation to provide protection not for ‘mere slights’, but only for ‘profound and serious’ harms. Hurt feelings are not protected. It already requires that the harms were objectively likely to have occurred. The terms ‘insult, offend, humiliate and intimidate’ have been read by the courts as a collective phrase. The proposed amendment is therefore irresponsible, as it is designed for a fabricated legislative problem. Inserting ‘harass’ inappropriately imports terms from the criminal law in to the civil law, and will reduce the scope of protections for profoundly harmful circumstances of racial abuse. This will only create confusion in the courts and do nothing to fix the matters of process which are required to invest the Commission with public trust.

It is obvious that the opponents of 18C view its amendment simply as a temporary concession to serve as a prelude to its later wholesale abolition. We will make no such concession.

We have received bipartisan support in Victoria with both Premier Daniel Andrews and Opposition Leader Matthew Guy confirming that they back 18C in its current form. Indeed, polling over the last three years suggests that between 75 and 90 per cent of Australians see no need for change.

We call on Prime Minister Turnbull and his Government to abandon the proposed amendment, and listen instead to Australia’s ethnic and faith communities.

Contact: Michael Fisher 0424 331 156 michaelf@aujs.com.au

Africa Day Australia (ADA) Inc
African Australian Multicultural Employment and Youth Services
African Music and Cultural Festival Inc
Afro-Australian Student Organisation
AMAFHH Federation
Australian Intercultural Society
Australasian Union of Jewish Students
Buddhist Council of Victoria
Council of Christians and Jews
The Hindu Council of Australia
The Incubate Foundation
iEmpower
Islamic Council of Victoria
Islamic Shia Council of Victoria
Jewish Community Council of Victoria
Muslim Legal Network
The Online Hate Prevention Institute
Pax Christi Australia
Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria
South Sudanese Community Association In Victoria Inc.
UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations
Uniting Church of Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
Victorian Council of Churches
Vietnamese Community in Australia (Vic)

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