Racial Discrimination Act again under threat

Once again there are moves from elements within the Coalition Government to amend Section 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act and the current Parliament has recently established a Freedom of Speech Parliamentary Inquiry. (See "Cory Bernadi leads 18C push", The Age (30 August 2016).

There's been a lot of talk - and a fair bit of misinformation - about the Racial Discrimination Act, especially sections 18C and 18D. These are the sections that address racial villification, and the exemptions.

The vast majority of complaints made under 18C are either conciliated through the Australian Human Rights Commission, or are withdrawn or dismissed. Many cases end with a simple apology.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has provided this useful summary of the RDA's race hate provisions and their impact.

Download Reconciliation Australia's Fact Sheet on the Racial Discrimination Act

Freedom of Speech Parliamentary Inquiry

The Federal Parliament has commenced a Freedom of Speech Parliamentary Inquiry, and invited submissions from the public.  The deadline for submissions closed Friday 23 December, 2016, with the committee due to report on the findings in late February.

Reconciliation Victoria made a submission to the Inquiry.  Read our submission here

Some useful background articles:

-          https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/race-discrimination/projects/race-hate-and-rda

-          https://www.humanrights.gov.au/our-work/race-discrimination/projects/glance-racial-vilification-under-sections-18c-and-18d-racial

-          https://racediscriminationcommissioner.wordpress.com

-          https://alhr.org.au/stand-protections-race-hate-speech-make-submission-parliamentary-inquiry-freedom-speech/

-          http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/rda1975202/

-          https://www.sbs.com.au/nitv/explainer/explainer-freedom-speech-inquiry

Some other opinion pieces worth reading:

Racial Discrimination Act section 18C campaigners want freedom to offend, not free speech, Kirsty Magary, The Age (5 September 2016)

Australia's Racial Discrimination Act should not be changed, Editorial, The Age (8 September 2016)



Back in 2014 RecVic welcomed the news that the proposed changes to Section 18 of the Racial Discrimination Act had been dropped.

RecVic along with community organisations, local governments, faith based groups and many others were alarmed at the proposed 'Freedom of Speech Bill' and the repeal of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. 

Media coverage of this decision:

Daniel Hurst, "Tony Abbott dumps race act changes to 'preserve unity' in terrorism fight" (The Guardian, August 5)

Stefanie Balogh, "Tony Abbott abandons push to alter race-hate legislation"(The Australian, August 6)

Heath Aston, "Tony Abbott dumps controversial changes to 18C racial discrimination laws" (The Age, August 5)

The Proposed Amendments

Attorney General George Brandis has proposed the following changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.


The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is amended as follows:
1. Section 18C is repealed.
2. Sections 18B, 18D and 18E are also repealed.
3. The following section is inserted:
(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a) the act is reasonably likely:
(i) to vilify another person or a group of persons; or
—(ii) to intimidate another person or a group of persons,


(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of that person or that group of persons.
(2) For the purposes of this section:
(a) vilify means to incite hatred against a person or a group of persons;
(b) intimidate means to cause fear of physical harm:
(i) to a person; or
—(ii) to the property of a person; or
—(iii) to the members of a group of persons.
(3) Whether an act is reasbnably likely to have the effect specified in sub-section (l)(a) is to be determined by the standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community, not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community.
(4) This section does not apply to words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter."

RecVic's Submission:

Reconciliation Victoria put in a submission against this proposal. It reads:

Reconciliation Victoria is opposed to the proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA), which will weaken protections against racial discrimination. We believe that the proposed amendments will be a step back in Australia’s reconciliation journey, and will hinder efforts to close the gaps in health and other outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.
Recent research found that the vast majority of Aboriginal Victorians experience racism regularly in shops, at school, at work or on public transport. The research found a strong correlation between these experiences and peoples’ level of psychological distress, which in turn can impact their health, education, employment and other areas of their lives. The repeal of Section 18C would open the door for a greater acceptance of racism in the community, when what we need is a stronger stance to stamp out racism.

Other submissions in response to the proposed changes:

It is believed that close to 5,500 submissions were made in response to the proposed amendements to the RDA. Brandis has refused thus far to make these public. You can however find many of the submissions through this article by Melissa Castan and some are linked below too.

"Freeing the RDA ‘Free Speech’ submissions:  Some submissions on the proposed amendments to S18C & D, Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth)" Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, June 26, 2014.

Reconciliation Australia’s CoChairs statement

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples submission
Project 18C - Project 18C campaign advocates against the repealing of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Over 30 local council in VIC &NSW - passed a motion demanding the attorney general, George Brandis, withdraw his changes to the Racial Discrimination Act in a widening local campaign against the repeal of 18C.
ANTaR Victoria’s New Campaign

Local Group Engagement and Advocacy:

The SRRG in partnership with the Greater Shepparton City Council and the  Ethnic Council Shepparton & District hosted the Respecting Difference Forum last Wednesday evening, June 25th at the Rumbalara Football and Netball Club. It was a part of the Localities Embracing and Accepting Diversity Project. It was well attended and showed strong community support and concern about the proposed changes to section 18 of the RDA. To see media coverage of this event, follow this link.