Federal Cabinet has come to an agreement on its proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, opting to debate the dramatic alteration of the Act’s highly contested wording. 

As it stands, the Act makes it an offence to “to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” based on their “race, colour or national or ethnic origin.” 

The proposed changes would replace the words “offend,” “insult,” and “humiliate” with “harass.”

Proponents of the change believe determining if language has the possibility to “harass” someone will supposedly rely on more objective measures than arguing if the language can offend, insult or humiliate. The goal? To protect what supporters believe to be their free speech rights.

However, potential changes to the wording of the Act have been roundly criticised, with many opponents concerned that even slight alterations may remove safeguards against outright hate speech.
Yesterday, Race Discrimination Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane defended the Act’s current wording, saying “the fact that someone feels they have been racially offended, insulted, intimidated or humiliated does not necessarily mean the legal standard has been met.”

The proposed changes will be debated in the Coalition party room later on today – Harmony Day, no less – ahead of any parliamentary vote on the issue. Labor and the Greens are not about the changes whatsoever, and at least one Liberal MP from an ethnically diverse seats have already stated they’ll oppose it when it comes to vote.