Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis are soon to bring forth legislation that would repeal part of the Racial Discrimination Act because, priorities. The section in question was brought to public awareness when Andrew Bolt wrote the column ‘It’s so hip to be black’, after which Abbott included repealing the act as one of his campaign promises.
Aside from offending countless Australians, Bolt’s column resulted in him being taken to court by Aboriginal academic Larissa Behrendt and nine others. In the case of Eatock v Bolt he was ultimately found to be in breach of Section 18C which, just so we’re clear, reads as follows:
RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ACT 1975 – SECT 18C
Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin
(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
Note: Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts. However, an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence. Section 26 says that this Act does not make it an offence to do an act that is unlawful because of this Part, unless Part IV expressly says that the act is an offence.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it:
(a) causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or
(b) is done in a public place; or
(c) is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place.
(3) In this section:
“public place” includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.
On one hand, as Brandis said in a statement to The Australian, “You cannot have a situation in a liberal democracy in which the expression of an opinion is rendered unlawful because somebody else … finds it offensive or insulting”.
On the other hand, racism is still a huge issue in Australia today and any legislation seeking to combat it should surely evolve rather than disappear. There have been countless writings on the issue of the intent behind actions and the offence they cause (ie. I’m not racist, but…); an idea which was summarised by blogger Shakesville when she said, “It is a most curious habit, given that most of us would readily acknowledge that “I didn’t mean it” isn’t an excuse for not having to apologize when we bump into someone or accidentally step on someone’s foot. Yet we have nonetheless created an entirely different standard for things we say that inadvertently hurt other people.”
In a statement on behalf of Mr Abbott, a spokesman said that section 18C would be repealed on the grounds that “it enables the censorship of free speech”.