Roxon bill changes do not go far enoughThursday, January 31, 2013
“The good news is that in response to community outrage, federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has agreed to delete the words offend, insult and intimidate from parts of her draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill,” FamilyVoice research officer Ros Phillips said today.
“The bad news is that far too many harmful sections remain, including the reversal of the onus of proof and the continued use of the highly subjective terms offend and insult in the racial discrimination provisions.”
FamilyVoice is among the many community groups, state governments, legal experts and individuals who have expressed deep concern about the legislation.
“It is disappointing that the Greens, along with some homosexual activists and trade unions, have argued that the bill should remain unchanged or made even more punitive,” Mrs Phillips said.
One of the bill’s many flaws is the inclusion of “religion” and “political opinion” in the long list of protected attributes.
Victoria’s controversial Racial and Religious Tolerance Act protects the attribute of religion. It led to a bitterly contested court battle between two pastors and the Islamic Council of Victoria following complaints about statements quoting the Koran. The pastors were ultimately vindicated by the Victorian Supreme Court of Appeal – but only after five years and huge legal costs.
Ros Phillips agrees with Dr Nicholas Tonti-Filippini, who noted that religious people are often the target of offensive comments – but he does not want such commentary made unlawful. “We would much rather see it exposed for what it is and dealt with in robust debate,” he said (Sydney Morning Herald, 30/1/13).
Ros Phillips said the bill, even with Ms Roxon’s proposed amendments, is fundamentally flawed. “It is long and complex, largely because there are so many exceptions to its rules,” she said. “It suffers from a split personality – where discrimination is both good and bad. Its vague wording can make it hard to determine what is lawful and what is not.
“This bill has human rights in its title, but it undermines basic human rights such as freedom of speech and association, while reversing the onus of proof. It should be withdrawn,” Ros Phillips said.
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