Murray Wesson writes in The Conversation (22.3.17) that the federal government has not adequately explained what it is hoping to achieve by changing the wording of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
'The Turnbull government has announced proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act: the law that makes it unlawful to engage in acts that are reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity.
'Under the proposals, the word “harass” will replace the words “offend, insult, humiliate”. A provision will also be included saying the test to be applied in deciding whether 18C has been breached is the objective standard of “the reasonable member of the Australian community”.
'There are also proposed changes to the processes the Australian Human Rights Commission follows when someone lodges a complaint under 18C. For example, the commission will have to contact the people a complaint affects.
'The changes to the commission’s processes are relatively uncontroversial; the commission supports many of them. They should also avoid a repeat of cases such as that involving three Queensland University of Technology students, who were not contacted until 14 months after the complaint was made.
'However, the government’s objectives in seeking to change 18C are unclear. This may have the effect of confusing rather than clarifying what the law means.'
Conservatives have captured Turnbull for culture war crusade
Michelle Grattan writes in The Conversation (21.3.17) about the significance, and the political implications, of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's moves to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
'Malcolm Turnbull is now, it seems, wholly owned by the conservatives in the Liberal Party and their strident media allies. His capitulation to them over Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has been as revealing as it has been dramatic.
'It has highlighted that Turnbull is, when it comes down to it, a transactional politician, one who these days will do whatever it takes in pursuit of his ends – in this case, keeping troublesome troops on side.
'As opposition leader in 2009, Turnbull paid the ultimate price within his own party for sticking to his guns on carbon policy. Now policy is subservient to the perceived politics of the moment.
'But this transaction to get the conservatives off his back is likely to carry a very high cost for him in sections of the electorate.'