Pushing Back “Offence” Laws in Australia

Most decent people in the western world know that in the last 15 years very dangerous laws have been passed that make it an offence to offend someone on the basis of race, religion and sexuality. In many instances these laws make sense, but sometimes they have been used by people with a chip on their shoulder to silence sensible free and fair speech in the public sphere.

Finally some good news in this area!

The Australian government has decided to submit to parliament some long overdue changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says the old language in Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act has lost credibility and will be replaced.

Amendments to section 18c will include the removal of the offences ‘insult’, ‘humiliate’, and ‘offend’ to be replaced by the higher test of ‘harass and intimidate’.

The test to be applied in complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission will be the standard of a ‘reasonable member of the community’. The commission will also have greater powers to filter complaints which are deemed to be frivolous or without merit and those who are the subject of complaints will get an early warning when a complaint is lodged.

This follows several high profile court cases in which university students and cartoonists have been hauled through the courts for the most trivial of comments. The problem with the current section 18c is that bigots, vexatious litigants, and those intolerant of other beliefs and ideas, can claim to be offended or insulted by others doing no more than expressing a different viewpoint to their own.

I believe these proposed changes finally strike a balance between protecting people from racial vilification while defending and enabling free speech. Surveys show two thirds of Australians think section 18c goes too far.

However, these changes will face an uphill battle to get through the senate. Please join with me in writing emails to Australia’s politicians, especially the senate cross bench members, telling them that these changes reflect a much more and balanced approach to these delicate social issues. Here are some email addresses to help send a message.

A list of all senators All senators

Cross-bench minor party representation in the senate is as follows:

David Leyonhjelm

Bob Day

Jacqui Lambie

Nick Xenophon, Stirling Griff and Skye Kakoschke-Moore

Pauline Hanson and Malcolm Roberts, Brian Burston, and Rodney Culleton

Derryn Hinch

Thanks for helping out.