Amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act


Liberty Victoria today attacked new government proposals to dilute protections against racist speech.

Liberty President, Jane Dixon SC, said that ‘freedom of speech is a fundamental value in a pluralistic and democratic society. At the same time, however, international and common law recognizes that this freedom has limits’.

The Attorney-General, Senator George Brandis, has proposed that existing legal protections against insulting, offensive and humiliating speech based on race and ethnic origin should be repealed. 

‘The idea that speech that humiliates a person on the grounds of their race should now be permissible is itself offensive’, Ms Dixon said.

The Brandis amendments also create a new offence of racial vilification. But racial vilification is defined narrowly to include only racial hatred.

‘Every State in Australia has racial vilification legislation’, Ms Dixon said. ‘But in State legislation vilification is defined more broadly to include racial hatred, serious ridicule of, and serious contempt for people on racial grounds.’

‘This suggests that the Commonwealth is also content for the serious ridicule and serious contempt of people on racial grounds to pass without sanction’.

The proposed amendments to the RDA provide for a sweeping defence to instances of racial abuse. Abuse, even at the level of racial hatred, is to be lawful as long as it occurs in the course of public discussion about any political, social, cultural or religious matter.

‘This defence defeats any argument that the proposed law contains reasonable protections against racial hatred and abuse. Racial vilification hardly exists if any racially hateful speech uttered in a political or cultural context is now to be regarded as lawful’, Ms Dixon said. 

A recent Monash University study disclosed that 40% of Australians born overseas had experienced racial discrimination since migrating to Australia. That percentage is about to escalate dramatically.

For comment please contact Liberty Victoria President, Jane Dixon SC, or Immediate Past President, Prof Spencer  Zifcak.