CEO Leah Armstrong said it is vital for the success of reconciliation that there are strong and effective protections against racial vilification in Australian law.
“While we believe uncompromisingly in free speech and acknowledge the rights of people to be able to say and write things that may offend some we think it essential that society draw the line at gratuitous hate speech,” said Ms Armstrong. “Governments must balance the competing interests of free speech with the equally compelling right of people to live without being subjected to crude and racist insults.
“Reconciliation is about building respectful relationships between Australians of different racial and cultural backgrounds, and while it is impossible to coerce people into respecting difference it’s important that as a society we set a line that shouldn’t be crossed.
“This is why we are strongly urging Attorney-General Senator George Brandis QC to proceed slowly and cautiously and heed the concerns of groups regularly subjected to racist hate speech including the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, Jewish and Muslim communities.
“There is a very fine line between deliberate racist abuse and racist violence and in the interests of maintaining a cohesive and democratic Australia the continued protection of minority groups from this kind of abuse is essential.”
Ms Armstrong said there is a growing medical research consensus that racism is a social determinant of health; that exposure to racism is a cause of sickness and ill-health.
“It is clear from studies published in the Medical Journal of Australia and by the World Health Organisation that reducing racism is not a “feel-good” objective but rather a key component for closing the gap in health, employment and education outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
“Despite Australia making progress towards reconciliation, racial vilification complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission increased 59 per cent last year and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people continue to suffer from both systemic and casual racism”, said Ms Armstrong.
“Now is not the time to retreat from racism and rather than abandoning legal protection for minorities we suggest that Governments should be investing more in public awareness and education.”