Remember our old friend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act? Yes, that is still a thing — and to remind you of where we left off before the break, the Joint Committee on Human Rights is conducting an inquiry into the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 including sections 18C and 18D and whether they restrict free speech.
On November 8 Attorney-General George Brandis announced the inquiry into the RDA and into whether the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) handles complaints properly. This was, as usual, a sop to the right of the Liberal Party, as Senator Cory Bernardi et al believe 18C to be an impediment to their freedoms.
Section 18C, as explained in The Conversation, makes it unlawful for a person to commit an act, in public, that is “reasonably likely” to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone or a group based on race or nationality. But section 18D says these acts are lawful if done “reasonably and in good faith,” and are in the public interest.
Part of the role of the AHRC is to look at breaches to 18C and to try and reconcile them instead of going to court.
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This review comes following considerable focus on 18C due to QUT administrative officer Cindy Prior’s case against the university over the use of a computer lab, Senator David Leyonhjelm’s complaint with the AHRC being rejected and Bernardi championing the removal of 18C within the Liberal Party.
Submissions closed on December 23, so we had a look through to find out what people from the left, right and the wacky fringe think about 18C.
FamilyVoice Australia describes itself as “… a national Christian voice — promoting true family values for the benefit of all Australians”. It seems family values include the freedom of speech.
While the link between family values and freedom of speech isn’t made clear, FamilyVoice argues freedom of speech, like humanity, is made in the image of God. This means it is a natural right, not something to be granted by governments.
In recent years FamilyVoice feels this natural right has been silenced by the rise of “politically correct” culture. The group says homosexuals, socialists, feminists and ethnic minorities are creating a hegemony in the public sphere and censoring those with opposing views.
In FamilyVoice’s view, this silencing, which also comes from 18C, is unacceptable. FamilyVoice believes freedom of speech should be limited to prevent serious harm, such as in the case of national security.
The submission says: “Offending, insulting or humiliating a person does not constitute serious harm and therefore section 18C is not a justifiable limitation.”
Australian Family Association
The AFA also argues 18C needs to be repealed or amended to take out “offend” and “insult” and allow for political purpose to be added as a mitigating factor in section 18D. The Australian Family Association says 18C infringes on freedom of speech by protecting people from being offended, insulted or humiliated.
On a broader level the association argues it limits our right to political communication.
Aged Pensioner Power
Aged Pensioner Power is less interested in discussing 18C than in replacing the entire AHRC. Aged Pensioner Power’s submission refers to the AHRC as the “Commission”, with scare quotes.
Aged Pensioner Power claims the AHRC, or “Commission”, is a get-rich scheme for protected minorities.
Dr Sev Ozdowski, former Australian Human Rights commissioner
Ozdowski was the Australian Human Rights Commissioner and Disability Discrimination Commissioner from 2000 to 2005 and has a long history of involvement in human rights, race relations and multiculturalism.
He argues there needs to be a revision of 18C alongside an overhaul of how the AHRC handles cases.
He argues 18C needs to be fixed on the basis that it goes beyond what is stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The covenant states: “Any advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence shall be prohibited by law.”
Ozdowski argues 18C goes beyond this:
Using his own experience at the AHRC, he feels it has “… always been biased towards the person making a complaint and to deliver ‘proper’ educational outcomes for broader society”.
Ozdowski also says accusations of discrimination can be very damaging and that parties are pressured into reaching an agreement so it doesn’t go public.
What atheists have to do with 18C is unclear; the group’s mission statement is: “We have an interest in ensuring that whatever a person’s faith or non-faith, that everyone is treated fairly, equally and without discrimination.”
The Sydney Atheists group wish to ensure the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is unchanged and that religious groups not be protected.
The group says religion is only an idea and ideas should not be protected.