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Parliamentary inquiry into free speech resolves nothing, so 18C should be left alone

Kath Gelber writes in The Conversation (1.3.17) about how the much-anticipated report of a federal Parliamentary Committee has offered little in the way of a solution to disagreement over Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

‘The inquiry into freedom of speech in Australia by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has reported to parliament. Unsurprisingly, it has focused most of its recommendations on the procedures and processes associated with the role of the Australian Human Rights Commission in accepting and hearing complaints.

‘The impetus for the inquiry was the now-infamous “QUT case”, in which an employee of Queensland University Technology asked non-Indigenous students to leave a computer lab designated for the use of Indigenous students. Those students then allegedly posted comments on Facebook, in relation to which the QUT employee lodged a complaint of unlawful vilification against the students. In November 2016, the Federal Court dismissed all the complaints against the students.

‘The QUT case was the most recent impetus for the launch of this inquiry, although it followed earlier rumblings in the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on traditional rights and freedoms, the Andrew Bolt case and the unsuccessful 2014 attempt to narrow section 18C.

‘… On the whole, this report is unhelpful. It has failed to resolve the key issues at stake in terms of the text of section 18C. Given the inability of the committee to reach agreement on suggestions for textual reform, the parliament should leave 18C unchanged.’

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