PM Tony Abbott drops amendments to Racial Discrimination Act
Attorney General George Brandis’ proposed amendments to Australia’s discrimination laws have been dropped by the Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Human rights advocates were concerned the proposed amendments would lead to vilification and have commended the PM for dropping the proposal.
The Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) has welcomed the announcement that the PM has “taken off the table” proposals drafted by Brandis, to repeal section 18C of the Race Discrimination Act.
HRLC Executive Director, Hugh de Kretser, said Australia’s laws against racial vilification are working well and had strong support in the community.
“It’s great news that the Prime Minister has walked away from plans that would have given the green light to bigotry. Strong and effective laws that protect Australians from racist hate speech are a great asset in combating the serious harm to individuals and society caused by racial vilification,” said de Kretser.
De Kretser claimed the changes proposed by Attorney General, George Brandis, would have abolished Federal legal protections against racial vilification, sending a signal of government approval of racial intolerance.
Under the proposed changes, the words “offend, insult and humiliate” would have been 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 existing free speech exemptions for fair comment, fair reporting and artistic and scientific works would have be greatly expanded with a catch-all exemption for “public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter”. Notably, the requirements for “reasonableness” and “good faith” in the exemption would have been removed.
"I congratulate the Prime Minister for the leadership he’s shown today. Free speech is an extremely important human right and striking an appropriate balance to cater for the diverse needs of our community is an important task,” said de Kretser.
LGBTI advocates suggested the PM’s decision to ditch plans to repeal section 18c also bodes well for a conscience vote on the issue of marriage equality.
Australian Marriage Equality deputy director Ivan Hinton-Teoh said, “Today, the Prime Minister showed leadership by putting his own views aside and embracing majority opinion."
“We hope he will do the same by allowing a conscience vote on marriage equality."
In his media conference the Prime Minister said, “in the end, leadership is about preserving national unity on the essentials and that is why I have taken this decision.”