Sunday, April 13, 2014


The Australain Parliament is to introduce legislation next week pledged by the incoming Government during the election to repeal a section of the Racial Discrimination Act which it claims prohibits free speech.

The issue came to a head after journalist Richard Bolt was found to have breached the act for making references in two columns to indigenous Australians in articles entitled “White fellas in the black” and “White is the new black”.

The section in question makes it illegal to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people on the basis their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis pledged to repeal the section during the election campaign.

The Government said the change would represent a move towards restoring free speech laws to their full power.

"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," said Attorney-General George Brandis.

"The classic liberal democratic rights that in my view are the fundamental human rights have been almost pushed to the edge of the debate," he said.

"It is a very important part of my agenda to re-centre that debate so that when people talk about rights, they talk about the great liberal democratic rights of freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of worship and freedom of the press."

The bill is scheduled to be the first to be introduced to the new Parliament, although the consultation process may lengthen the time frame before it reaches a vote.

The former attorney-general Mark Dreyfus wrote an open letter prior to the election claiming the proposed repeal of the section contravened the Government’s support for the London Declaration on Combatting Anti-Semitism, signed by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard and by Tony Abbott whilst he was in opposition.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported that a spokesman for Tony Abbott said the Coalition would repeal section 18C because it enabled the censorship of free speech.

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