Amnesty International strongly opposes any watering down of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act, as proposed by Attorney-General George Brandis.

“It is deeply concerning that only 3 days after Australians marked National Harmony Day, the country’s top lawmaker has introduced a Bill to amend the Racial Discrimination Act, targeting laws that provide essential recourse to individuals and communities against racial hatred,” said Amnesty International Australia’s newly appointed Indigenous Rights’ Manager, Tammy Solonec.

The Federal government proposes to remove the words “offend, insult, humiliate” from the Act, and to remove any requirement that a statement be made ‘in good faith’ for free speech to apply.

The proposed amendments completely dismiss the historical significance of the 1995 amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act, which inserted a new part on Racial Hatred.

This came about following three national inquiries - the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the National Inquiry into Racist Violence and the Australian Law Reform Commission Report into Multiculturalism and the Law - which found a strong link between racially vilifying conduct in public and racially-motivated violence. It also ignores international jurisprudence that led to the formation of these laws as a global movement.

"This will affect many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other ethnic minorities who regularly experience racism and hate speech,” said Ms Solonec.

"Without these protections, there will be few remedies available to people who are vilified and defamed on the basis of their race, ethnicity or cultural origin. The law of defamation provides little recourse to people who are unable to foot extremely expensive civil litigators’ bills.”

Although the government’s proposed measures are said to make vilification unlawful, the breadth of the exception for expression made in the public discussion of any “political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter” renders any intended protection from racial vilification meaningless.

“Allowing this to go ahead would be incredibly damaging, leaving marginalised individuals and communities without accessible recourse to racial hatred, and sending a signal that hate speech is acceptable," said Tammy Solonec.