Islamophobia Watch Australia opposes the Commonwealth government’s proposal to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

Friday, 24th of March

Islamophobia Watch Australia opposes moves by the Commonwealth government to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In our view, replacing the words words ‘offend, insult and humiliate’ in the legislation with the new ‘harass and intimidate’ addresses a problem that does not exist.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act protects racial and ethnic minorities from public speech that is ‘reasonably likely’ to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate.

Section 18D of the same act provides exemptions for artistic performances, academic and scientific discussions, news reports and public commentary where the commentator sincerely held their expressed beliefs. Section 18C is also subject to ‘reasonable person’ text, commonly used in Australian jurisprudence.

The Australian community, through the Parliament, chose to legislate Sections 18C and 18D  in recognition that racist speech, just like racial discrimination, causes significant harm to those subjected to it.

Those who support changing the wording of Section 18C need to clarify what speech they feel is being prevented by the legislation. What kinds of speech do they feel they cannot express now that would be facilitated by the weakening of Section 18C? From our standpoint, the only speech that Section 18C restricts is intentionally malicious, false and harmful speech that does not contribute to public discourse.

Speech that expresses hatred for Islam and Muslims is not covered by Section 18C. Islamophobic speech in common in our parliaments and our public discourse. This has enabled paranoid conspiracy theories to go mainstream. Tax payer money is expended inquiring into Halal certification, not for any public benefit, but to score party political points.

Islamophobia Watch Australia recognises that unbridled racist hate speech will worsen our public discourse. Islamophobia Watch Australia stands in support of Indigenous Australians, Australians from diverse ethnic backgrounds, and anti-racist organisations who oppose the weakening of Section 18C. We deplore the tacit permission that these changes to Section 18C will signal.


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