Australia’s rights to bigotry– let’s call it a ‘Freedom of speech’ Inquiry

 

title-page_submission-to-the-exposure-draft

On Friday December 9th, an email arrived in my inbox from author Alice Pung advising that the Australian Government is holding a Senate Inquiry into Freedom of Speech, and submissions were closing on the day! Pung was in contact as the Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane  had advised that she could re-submit the 2014 document I had signed on behalf of Peril editors and board members, contributions from 175 Australian authors, writers, journalists, editors, publishers, directors, artists, filmmakers, academics and supporters who have made a submission to the Exposure Draft of The Attorney-General’s Proposed Amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act.

As stated in the document:

We have never felt our freedom of speech threatened by the current Racial Discrimination Act 1975. We firmly oppose the proposed amendments to the Act. We submit that we will endeavour to do all we can in our respective fields to ensure that Australia does not become a country that condones ‘bigotry’ – unsubstantiated and untrue racist comments and discourse that incite hatred towards others.

At Peril, we’re alarmed that despite more than 76 per cent of 4100 submissions opposing any proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act in 2014, Attorney-General George Brandis has referred to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights the following two matters for inquiry and report:

  1. whether the operation of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (including sections 18C and 18D) impose unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech; and
  2. whether the complaints-handling procedures of the Australian Human Rights Commission should be reformed.

In 2014, under the guise of free speech, Attorney-General George Brandis defends the right to be bigots in Australia. In Brandis’ version of a free country, “people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted”. In 2014, when the Government refused to make submissions publicly available, which is part of a normal consultation process, the Human Rights Law Centre invited the public to send their submissions to be made available on their website for public discourse.

The key events that had led to this year’s inquiry’s focus on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and the complaints process of the Australian Human Rights Commission was Bill Leak’s controversial cartoon and the dismissal of the QUT discrimination case. For a detailed analysis and overview about the events that have led to the Parliamentary Inquiry, see NITV (National Indigenous Television) Explainer: The Freedom of Speech Inquiry.

We’re also alarmed that the Australian Human Rights Commission’s president Professor Gillian Triggs is of the view that removing offend and insult and inserting “vilify” would be a strengthening of the laws.

As outlined in our collective submission:

  1. We believe that the exclusion of ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ from the proposed draft removes important protections from discrimination. These words were removed because the Attorney-General determined that:

“Those three words – offend, insult and humiliate – describe what has sometimes been called hurt feelings … It is not, in the Government’s view, the role of the State to ban conduct merely because it might hurt the feelings of others.”12

 

The closing date for submissions was set as Friday, 9 December 2016; however, the committee has agreed to accept submissions until 23 December 2016 if an extension is required.

We urge you to act and to write to the

Committee Secretary
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
PO Box 6100,
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600

Phone: 02 6277 3823
Fax: 02 6277 5767
18Cinquiry@aph.gov.au

 

Resources

Explainer: The Freedom of Speech InquiryNITV

Racial Discrimination Act – Make a Submission to the Inquiry – Reconciliation Victoria

Blak Dot’s 18C – Opening night, Thursday April 17th – Peril

Thirty one Victorian Multicultural, Faith and Community Organisations oppose amendments to the Racial Discrimination ActPeril

Proposed changes to the racial vilification laws – Key Submissions – 2014 – Human Rights Law Centre

The Castan Centre for Human Rights’s list of publicly available submissions: Freeing the RDA ‘Free Speech’ submissions.

 

Author: Lian Low

Lian Low is currently Peril's Chairperson and Writer-at-Large, previously Editor-in-Chief (2010-2014) and Prose Editor (2009-2014). In early 2015, she collaborated on the performance text of the sold-out premiere of Do you speak Chinese? at the Malthouse Theatre & Dance Massive. In the middle of 2015, she was a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellow, and read her travel memoir in progress at their Next Big Thing: Hot Desk edition. At the end of 2015, Melbourne’s UNESCO City of Literature Office Travel Fund initiative funded her travels to the Ubud Writers and Readers Festival and the Melaka Arts and Performance Festival in Malaysia. Find her on http://lianlow.weebly.com/ and Twitter @Lian__Low