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Change Section 18C? Critics should do this crash course first

Kath Gelber and Luke McNamara write in The Conversation (15.11.16) about some of the legal and practical detail missing from much of the political debate over a possible amendment to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

'The federal government has announced a parliamentary inquiry into free speech and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. So the time is right for a crash course on the law, its exemptions, and the powers of the Australian Human Rights Commission.

'... Critics have called for the words “insult” and “offend” to be removed from section 18C. But this would likely have no legal effect; remember, previous judgements have said that conduct must have “profound and serious effects” before one can say 18C has been breached.'

'However, removing these words would send a troubling symbolic message to the communities that section 18C is supposed to protect: that the government feels they should bear the burden of more harm so that others can have free speech. Could there be a more wrong message to send at this time in our history?'

Should we follow others' example?

Murray Wesson suggests in The Conversation (13.12.16) that a 'minor' change, substituting 'vilify' for 'offend' and 'insult', would bring Section 18C more in line with similar laws in other democracies without undermining its effectiveness.

'Most democracies recognise that hate speech laws are important to protect the dignity of minority groups and maintain a successful multicultural society. But 18C also goes further by applying to “offensive” and “insulting” speech.

'Changing these words to “vilify”, as Human Rights Commission head Gillian Triggs has suggested, would make 18C clearer and bring it more in line with the laws of other democracies. It would also be a minor change that would allow 18C to continue its important work in curbing hateful acts.'


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