The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is conducting this inquiry into Freedom of Speech in Australia. The inquiry focuses on whether Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) unreasonably inhibits free speech. Part IIA includes the much debated section 18C, which is intended to protect people from racist hate speech.
Our submission recommends against changing the Racial Discrimination Act. For over 20 years the Australian courts have interpreted the Act in a way that finely balances freedom of expression and peoples’ rights to be free from racial abuse.
We also argue that there are a range of other laws in Australia that create serious freedom of speech concerns that ought to be addressed by this inquiry. These include problematic laws, including inadequate whistleblower protections and surveillance and secrecy laws that curtail freedom of the press. We recommend these laws are repealed in order to protect free speech and ensure government officials are held accountable.
Amnesty recommends that the best way for the Parliament to ensure rights to freedom of expression and other fundamental rights are protected and appropriately balanced in Australia is to legislate a Human Rights Act. We call on the Government to take steps to legislate a Human Rights Act as soon as possible.
We also recommend political leaders of all stripes in Australia increase their efforts to condemn racism in all its forms and demonstrate genuine support for multiculturalism. Now is the time for leadership.