Community groups including the Hindu Council of Australia, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, ISKCON, Kerala Hindu Society Melbourne and Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria are opposing attempts to a federal inquiry into 18C.
Melbourne, January 7: As the debate on 18C continued from last year, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia (FECCA) reminded Parliamentarians of their responsibility to protect the rights of Australia’s minority culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities.
A federal inquiry is currently being held into the efficacy of the Act and Section 18C, which deems it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” based on a person’s race or ethnicity.
As the Parliament resumes in 2017, FECCA will oppose any attempt to amend or weaken Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that provides protection against racially motivated attacks, including hate speech, against Australians from CALD communities.
“The re-opening of the debate about 18C sends a message that racism is acceptable in the name of free speech”, FECCA Chairperson, Joe Caputo said.
“As it stands, the provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act strike a balance between the right to freedom of expression and the right to freedom from racial vilification.”
The body representing Australians from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, FECCA is arguing that the 2014 debate on this issue was extensive and does not require debate.
There is an overwhelming community response against changes to the Act, according to FECCA.
In a statement issued by FECCA, it is urging the Government and all political parties to show “leadership in fighting racism and discrimination and celebrating Australia’s multicultural community.”
The need to retain 18C was earlier also emphasised by the United Nations special Rapporteur François Crépeau at the end of his official visit to Australia.
“Maintaining section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act sets the tone of an inclusive Australia, committed to implementing its multicultural practices and programmes and respecting, protecting and promoting the human rights of all.”
In a separate campaign to maintain 18C, more than 60 local community groups made a joint submission to the Andrews Government, last month, on the steps of Parliament House.
Community groups include the Buddhist Council of Victoria, Hindu Council of Australia, Hindu Swayamsevak Sangh, ISKCON, Islamic Council of Victoria (ICV), Kerala Hindu Society Melbourne, Seva International, Sikh Interfaith Council of Victoria, United Sri Lankan Muslim Association among many others.
Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Robin Scott met with Victorian representatives from a number of multicultural, faith and Aboriginal community groups to welcome the submission and support the existing Racial Discrimination Act.
“Discrimination based on race, gender or religion is never OK. People have the right to be accepted for who they are.
“Any attempt to water down Australia’s hate-speech laws and undermine our history of multiculturalism will not be accepted by the Andrews Labor Government,” Mr Scott said.
Ethnic groups in Greater Dandenong also came together in a community forum in support of retaining Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Attended by Federal Labor Members – Shadow Attorney General , Hon Mark Dreyfus QC MP; Member for Hotham , Clare O’Neil; and Member for Bruce, Julian Hill; the forum held at The Castle pledged to fight to keep Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
“It has protected our community against racial hate speech for over 20 years and there is no good reason that it should be changed now,” Mr Dreyfus said.
“It is important to the Dandenong community that every person feels safe to go to the market or walk down Lonsdale Street without the threat of being intimidated because of their racial background.”
Ms O’Neil said that it was “deeply regrettable” that Malcolm Turnbull is revisiting the mistakes of his predecessor Tony Abbott.
She said toying with 18C was being used by the “far-right in the Liberal Party” as a “plaything”.
At the forum local residents filled out a submission to Parliament against the proposed changes.
Labor reaffirmed its stance against any changes to Australia’s laws against racial hatred, and pledged to campaign strongly against the Government’s revisiting section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Notably in May 2014, the then Victorian Multicultural Affairs Minister in the previous state Liberal Government, Matthew Guy had said that there “should be no changes to the Federal Racial Discrimination Act and we’ll be very, very clear in our submission to say so.”