Page 833 - Week 03 - Wednesday, 9 April 2014

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We also know that racism can take other forms, such as prejudice attitudes, lack of recognition of cultural diversity, cultural bias practices and so on. Racism is also about someone not getting a job interview because of your non-English sounding name or even missing out on a rental property because of the colour of your skin. This is how racism looks in Australia today. According to recent surveys, Australians being discriminated against because of their skin colour, ethnic origin or religious belief is becoming increasingly prevalent. This is simply unacceptable.

That is why it came as a surprise to many that the federal government’s proposed change to the Racial Discrimination Act would, in effect, remove the provision that makes it unlawful for someone to publicly offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people because of their race or ethnicity. This, as you know, will water down the current provisions and, learning from history, it does not take much to destroy the delicate balance of tolerance in the Australian society, one that we all enjoy and should be proud of and that, needless to say, we have all worked hard to achieve.

The argument put forward for the need for change I do not believe is plausible. We are yet to hear any credible support to this effect from the community. The majority view is that it is a needless political exercise and there are numerous warnings of the danger of walking this path that have been publicly voiced. There has even been criticism from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Professor Gillian Triggs, as reported in the Canberra Times on 7 March.

Only last week the New South Wales Premier directly contradicted the federal Attorney-General when, in relation to bigotry, he categorically stated, “It should never be sanctioned whether intentionally or unintentionally. Vilification on the grounds of race or religion is always wrong.”

Other experts have come out and highlighted the dangers of racist content online and on social media, remarking that racial commentary disguised as humour and other forms of racist hate speech have a potential to go viral, particularly if measures to prevent this that are in existing law are suddenly removed. I suggest that we could see a massive increase in the amount of such commentary online and in social media.

The negative impact of the proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on the community should not be underestimated. We know only too well that abuse and harassment can lead and has led to suicide, self-harm and substance abuse in our community. I believe the federal government should think about this move a little more carefully before putting the Australian community at risk through these proposed changes.

They should remember that section 18C was not put in place to limit freedom of speech. That was never the goal. Section 18C is about the government offering legislative protection to the most vulnerable and marginalised members of our society—our Indigenous population, along with culturally and ethnically diverse communities and religious minority groups.

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