Section 18C is one tool to combat the racism that still occurs daily in Australia. The Commission has advocated for years to protect it as it currently stands.
Every member of our community has the right to protection from serious racist speech and behaviour, which can create barriers to participation in public life.
The proposed changes would replace the words 'insult', 'offend' and 'humiliate' with 'harass'. It is unclear how these words will be defined in any proposed legislation. It appears that what is intended, however, is that these changes will insert a higher bar for future cases to proceed under the Racial Discrimination Act.
The current Act strikes an appropriate balance between freedom of speech and protection from racial vilification. Section 18C does not affect private behaviour or speech, and only makes racist behaviour unlawful, not criminal. The laws contain an exception for "good faith" behaviour genuinely conducted in the public interest.
It is important to note that, contrary to the misleading campaigns we have seen in some parts of the media, the number of complaints made under both federal- and state-based legislation in this area is relatively low. Few cases make it to the courts, damages are rarely awarded, and courts usually only consider cases where behaviour has had "profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights".
The Commission stands alongside the many ethnic and minority groups opposing the Federal Government's proposed changes to the wording of section 18C.
If you are in Victoria and have experienced discrimination because of your race, religion or any other factor, call the Commission on 1300 292 153 or contact us via our website.