Submission on the proposed amendment to Racial Discrimination Act 1975

Amnesty International is concerned that the draft Freedom of Speech (Repeal of s. 18C) Bill 2014 (the draft Bill) fails to strike an appropriate balance between the right to free speech and the rights of others to freedom from racial discrimination and protection against racial hatred.

The draft Bill would repeal provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) that provide essential recourse to culturally and linguistically diverse people and groups, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, who continue to suffer racial abuse, vilification and the harmful long term psychological and health effects that result from it.

The current provisions are part of a framework for conciliation by the Human Rights Commission that focuses on resolving legitimate complaints in a non-adversarial manner. The current RDA provisions ensure a reasonable balance by exempting a broad range of expression that is made reasonably and in good faith. Such exemptions are provided for fair and accurate reporting of matters in the public interest and expression for genuine academic, artistic or scientific purposes.

The draft Bill defines racial vilification narrowly as “incitement to hatred.” Racial intimidation is also restrictively defined as fear of physical harm. Amnesty International considers that the limited scope of the proposed protections and breadth of exceptions under the draft Bill combine to breach Australia’s international obligations to protect individuals and groups from racial discrimination and hatred.

Contrary to the Attorney-General’s Media release of 25 March 2014 which accompanied the draft Bill, these laws will not strengthen the RDA’s protections against racism; they will weaken them significantly.

What does Amnesty International recommend?

  1. That the draft Bill not be introduced.
  2. That any future amendments to the RDA be drafted to conform to Australia’s international legal obligations.
  3. That if, contrary to recommendation 1, the draft Bill is introduced:
  • 3.1 the definition of vilification and intimation be broadened to reflect their ordinary meaning
  • 3.2. subsection 3 be repealed so that impact of an act on the victims group remains relevant when assessing what is reasonably likely to vilify or intimidate
  • 3.3. subsection 4 be amended to include a requirement of reasonableness and good faith for any exempt public discussion
  • 3.4. section 18E, relating to vicarious liability of employers, be retained as currently in force
  • 3.5. section 18B, which clarifies the treatment of an act done for more than one reason, be retained as currently in force.

Download the submission

To found out more, read the full submission: Submission to the Attorney-General’s Department on the proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.