Parliamentary report recommends passing 18C changes

The Senate Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs has recommended passing the government’s controversial changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, despite dissenting reports from Labor and the Greens.

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Composed of senators from all the major parties, the committee was only given a few days to report on the proposed legislation.

“The committee has found that this bill will make overdue reforms to the RDA, strengthening the protections against hateful speech based on race, colour or national or ethnic origin,” it said.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act currently makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone on the basis of their race or ethnicity.

The Turnbull Government is proposing to remove the words ‘insult’, ‘offend’ and ‘humiliate’ and replace them with ‘harass’, while retaining ‘intimidate’.

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The parliamentary committee agreed ‘insult’, ‘offend’ and ‘humiliate’ were too open to interpretation.

“The subjectivity of these terms and the disconnect from their ordinary meaning has had a chilling effect on freedom of speech,” it said.

However, Labor and Greens politicians on the committee each made dissenting reports which were critical of the official line.

“If passed, the changes to section 18C would result in a period of uncertainty about the scope of the new provisions,” Labor said in its report.

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Public submissions to the report also blasted the changes as unwarranted.

“There is little if any judicial interpretation of the word ‘harass’ in the Australian authorities,” a submission from the Law Council of Australia said.

“The Law Council maintains the view…that sections 18C and 18D of the RDA, as interpreted by the Courts, strike and appropriate balance between freedom of expression and protection from racial vilification, and should not be amended.”

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Similarly, the Federation of Communities’ Councils of Australia didn’t support the proposal.

“FECCA believes that by replacing the words ‘insult’, ‘humiliate’ and ‘offend’ in section 18c with ‘harass’, the Government sends a message to the community that racism is acceptable and that Australia condones insulting and offensive speech on the basis of race and ethnicity,” it said.

The bill will be debated in the Senate this week with a vote likely at the end of the week.

The government will need the support of Senate crossbenchers to pass the bill, although Senator Derryn Hinch has already labelled the legislation a ‘dead parrot’.

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The Feed: Hate Speech?

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