Welcome news: 18C report confirms no need for substantive change

L- R Jonathon Hunyor, PIAC; Stephanie Cousins, Amnesty International; Anna Talbot, Australian Lawyers Alliance; Burhan Zangana, Refugee Communities Advocacy Network, Refugee Council of Australia; Tim O’Connor, Refugee Council of Australia; Senator Linda Reynolds, Senator for Western Australia; Roxanne Moore, Amnesty International; Sahar Okhovat, Refugee Council of Australia.

The report of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights in relation to federal protections against racial discrimination and the complaint handling procedures of the Australian Human Rights Commission confirms that there is no compelling case for substantive change to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

The Committee found there was a ‘significant and substantial case’ for clarifying the operation of the law to bring it into line with the case law around the meaning of the terms ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ and to avoid any confusion. Beyond that, there was no consensus on changes to section 18C that would ensure the careful balance is maintained between allowing freedom of expression and the right to be free from racial discrimination and racist hate speech.

‘The overwhelming evidence is that this regime has worked successfully and effectively for over two decades. The law makes a strong statement that our society rejects the public expression of racial hatred while providing protection for freedom of expression’, said PIAC CEO, Jonathon Hunyor.

‘We therefore welcome the committee’s decision not to recommendation changes to 18C. The Committee did, however, make extensive recommendations relating to the processes of the Australian Human Rights Commission and access to the courts. These need to be worked through carefully to ensure they also get the balance right and ensure a fair and robust process’, said Jonathon Hunyor.

The Committee further recommended that education programs regarding racism and the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act be developed, strengthened and supported.

PIAC’s submission to the inquiry, Reasonable limitations on the right to freedom of expression is available in the publications section of our website. A full transcript of the public hearing at which PIAC gave evidence is available on the Australian Parliament’s website.

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