In a submission to the Attorney General lodged today, Reconciliation Australia (RA) strongly opposed the changes to the RDA as contained in the Government’s recent exposure draft bill and argued they were “a significant barrier to achieving our vision for a reconciled, just and equitable Australia”.
Co-Chair Dr Tom Calma AO said Reconciliation Australia could not understand the Attorney General’s insistence on change against the strident opposition of the majority of Australians.
“As the RDA currently provides strong and effective protections against racial discrimination, and the proposed amendments would significantly weaken the current protections, we see no compelling case to change the RDA and strongly oppose the proposed amendments,” said Dr Calma. “We believe that the Act has served its purpose well over nearly 20 years and recommend that it remains unchanged.”
Dr Calma said the proposed changes significantly narrow the scope of potential unlawful conduct under the RDA and broaden the defence available to a person who is alleged to have done an unlawful act. “The Attorney General’s exposure bill will erode, rather than strengthen racial vilification laws and place greater value on the right to free speech at the expense of protections against racial discrimination.”
Co-Chair Melinda Cilento said that racism remained prevalent in Australian society and was a major impediment to achieving equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in health, employment, education and housing.
“RA recommends the Government should only consider changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 that genuinely strengthen legal protections against racial vilification,” she said. “If the Federal Government is committed to reviewing the RDA to strengthen racial vilification laws, we believe there are various ways the proposed amendments could be better designed to strengthen—or at least preserve—protections under the RDA.
“Any changes must be supported by the vast majority of the Australian community, and most importantly, by minority groups most affected by racism.”
The RA submission recommends that at the very minimum changes to the Act should:
- Include insult and humiliate, and expand the definition of vilify to its more ordinary meaning. For example: ‘vilify’ is “to depreciate or disparage with abusive or slanderous language; to defame, revile or despise”.
- Expand the definition of intimidate to include psychological and mental harm and
include a community standard test assessed against the standard of the particular group discriminated against.
The Co-Chairs said they found it bewildering that at a time when significant sections of Australian society, such as sporting codes, churches and large corporations were actively seeking to reduce racism the Attorney General would seek to give bigotry and racist vilification a green light.