Proposed RDA changes will weaken reconciliation

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.

Paul House with gum leaves and smoke
Paul Girrawah House

Paul Girrawah House has multiple First Nation ancestries from the South-East Canberra region, including the Ngambri-Ngurmal (Walgalu), Pajong (Gundungurra), Wallabollooa (Ngunnawal) and Erambie/Brungle (Wiradyuri) family groups.

Paul acknowledges his diverse First Nation history, he particularly identifies as a descendant of Onyong aka Jindoomang from Weereewaa (Lake George) and Henry ‘Black Harry’ Williams from Namadgi who were both multilingual, essentially Walgalu-Ngunnawal-Wiradjuri speaking warriors and Ngunnawal–Wallaballooa man William Lane aka ‘Billy the Bull’ - Murrjinille.

Paul was born at the old Canberra hospital in the centre of his ancestral country and strongly acknowledges his First Nation matriarch ancestors, in particular his mother Dr Aunty Matilda House-Williams and grandmother, Ms Pearl Simpson-Wedge.

Paul completed a Bachelor of Community Management from Macquarie University, and Graduate Certificate in Wiradjuri Language, Culture and Heritage and Management from CSU.

Paul provided the Welcome to Country for the 47th Opening of Federal Parliament in 2022. Paul is Board Director, Ngambri Local Aboriginal Land Council, Member Indigenous Reference Group, National Museum of Australia and Australian Government Voice Referendum Engagement Group.  

Paul works on country with the ANU, First Nations Portfolio as a Senior Community Engagement Officer

Acknowledgement of Country

Reconciliation Australia acknowledges Traditional Owners of Country throughout Australia and recognises the continuing  connection to lands, waters and communities. We pay our respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures; and to Elders past and present. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that this website contains images or names of people who have passed away.

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