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News Article

Senator Brandis, please keep your freedom promise
Thursday, March 6, 2014

“The Coalition Government should honour its election promise to eliminate the ‘hurt feelings’ test from the vilification grounds of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act,” FamilyVoice president David Phillips said today.

The Liberal National Coalition wrote the following words in a letter to FamilyVoice shortly before the federal election on 7 September 2013:

We are concerned that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits statements that "offend, insult or humiliate" another person or a group of people on grounds of race or ethnicity, is a threat to free speech in Australia.

Offending, insulting, humiliating or intimidating others on any grounds, racial or otherwise, is deplorable. It should be everyone's goal to elevate the standards of public debate, not lower them, and to demonstrate respect rather than disdain for the various components of our community. Still, a "hurt feelings" test is impossible to comply with while maintaining the fearless pursuit of truth, which should be the hallmark of a society such as ours. Speech that has to be inoffensive would be unerringly politically correct but it would not be free.

The Coalition will repeal section 18C in its current form. Any prohibitions on inciting hatred against or intimidation of particular racial groups should be akin to the ancient common law offences of incitement and causing fear.

The repeal of section 18C became an issue after Andrew Bolt was found to have breached this section of the Racial Discrimination Act through publication of two of his articles in the Herald Sun. The articles questioned the merit of awarding prizes reserved for Aboriginal people to fair-skinned people of significant European as well as Aboriginal descent.

Justice Bromberg found that “fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed in the newspaper articles”.

Senator Brandis was right when he said at the time: “Section 18C, as presently worded, has no place in a society that values freedom of expression and democratic governance. If the Bolt decision is not overturned on appeal, the provision in its present form should be repealed.” Since the decision has not been overturned, section 18C should now be repealed.1

Senator Brandis was again right when he said last year that: “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.”2

Dr Phillips said that fundamental freedoms of expression, association and religion underpin our democracy. “They took centuries to achieve – and they are worth defending against attacks from those who want us to return to the dark ages,” he said.

1. George Brandis, “Section 18C has no place in a society that values freedom of expression”, The Australian (30 September 2011).
2. Chris Merritt, “Attorney-General George Brandis's first task: repeal 'Bolt laws' in name of free speech”, The Australian (8 November 2013).


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