Section 18C – Racial Discrimination Act 1975

What is the issue? 

It has been proposed by several members of parliament and society that amendments to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) should be made. Currently section 18C makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person because of their “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”.

 

Why is this being debated?

  • The discussion has been prompted by court cases  in 2016 against three university students who made comments on Facebook about segregation after being asked to leave an indigenous-only computer lab on their university campus.
  • Most recently the discussion was re-ignited when cartoonist Bill Leak was accused of breaching Section 18C  through one of his cartoons.

 

What are the proposed changes?

To change the wording in Section 18C from “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” to  “harass or intimidate”.

 

What are the arguments FOR change?

  • “The current wording restricts freedom of speech” (The Australian).
  • “People can be offended in everyday conversations and a court case is a very extreme way of dealing with this matter” (The Australian).

 

What are the arguments AGAINST change?

  • “The Act effectively protects against hate speech” (ABC News).
  • “Section 18C does not limit freedom of speech as it is protected by Section 18D which states that ‘Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith'” (RDA, The Age).

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