Sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act — the law against racial vilification — are under renewed attack from the right including the Murdoch media empire and the Coalition government for allegedly impeding free speech.
Since they were introduced in the early 1990s, these sections of the law have not impeded free speech whereas there is bipartisan support for many other laws that have strongly restricted freedom of speech and assembly, and the right to protest.
The law includes an express protection of free speech in section 18D: “Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith: (a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or (b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or (c) in making or publishing: (i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or (ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.”
Subject, to these protections, section 18D makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone in public because of their race or ethnicity.
The law encourages complaints to be dealt with through conciliation through the Human Rights Commission. Just 3% of cases get to court.
The actual numbers of section 18C complaints, while rising sharply since 2011–12, are a tiny fraction of the actual cases of racial vilification taking place.
This is because the targets of systematic racism are often too disempowered, too uninformed of the law or too intimidated to bring complaints.
The vilification law arose in the wake of independent public inquiries in the 1980s that demonstrated how racial vilification had grave physical consequences for the targets of racism.
Since then there have been many cases of incitement of racial violence by people in positions of power including radio shock jocks such as in 2005 in Cronulla, NSW.
• For rejection of the right's false “free speech” campaign against the racial vilification laws;
• For recognition that the real danger today is the rise of racism and bigotry; and
• Against abolition or weakening of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act as that will further legitimise and encourage racism.