HRLC – Abandon racial vilification changes: over 120 organisations urge the Federal Government

In a joint open letter sent to Attorney-General George Brandis today, over 120 Aboriginal, ethnic, community, union, legal, religious and human rights organisations urged the Federal Government to abandon its controversial proposal to roll back racial vilification protections.

Leading organisations including Amnesty International Australia, ACOSS, ACTU, Oxfam Australia, GetUp! Australia, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Settlement Council of Australia, Federation of Chinese Associations, YWCA, St Vincent de Paul, Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia, Save the Children Australia, Refugee Council of Australia, UNICEF Australia and the Uniting Church have added their voice to the strong community opposition to the changes.

“Australia is a proudly multicultural nation. We have come a long way. These changes would wind back the clock. The proposal should be scrapped,” said Joe Caputo, Chair of the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia.

“For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, racism is a reality,” said Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Peoples’ Rights Manager at Amnesty International. “Rolling back these laws would remove important legal protections and send a dangerous signal about where we stand on fighting racism in our community.”

“Australians want strong and effective laws against racial vilification. These changes would effectively remove Federal racial vilification protection entirely and give a green light to racism. It’s not surprising that there has been such strong opposition to the changes,” said Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre.

“These changes aren’t in the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and they’re not in the interest of the broader Australian community,” said Eddie Cubillo, Chief Executive Officer of NATSILS. “We urge the Federal Government to abandon the changes.”

The proposed changes to Federal laws that prohibit racial vilification were released on 25 March 2014 for consultation. The changes, if implemented, would radically change the laws by narrowing the scope of the existing protection and introducing a new extremely broad exemption for public discussion.

“The exemption is so broad, and the new protection is so narrow, that the combined changes would almost completely remove the existing Federal racial vilification protections,” said Mr de Kretser.

Over 5300 submissions were reportedly received by the Federal Government but the submissions have not been made public. In April, a Fairfax Nielsen poll found that 88 per cent of respondents believed it should remain unlawful to offend, insult or humiliate someone on the grounds of race. The Challenging Racism Project also confirmed strong community support for the laws.

A copy of the open letter can be found here.

For further information and comments, please contact Hugh de Kretser on 0403 965 340[email protected]

Visit the HRLC website here.