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JOINT MEDIA STATEMENT

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Community groups continue campaign for retention of law against race hate

Representatives of the Indigenous, Greek, Jewish, Chinese, Armenian and Korean communities are continuing their campaign to persuade Federal politicians against any repeal or watering down of Australia’s laws against racial vilification.

In 2011, columnist Andrew Bolt was found by the Federal Court to have contravened sections of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) which prohibit public conduct that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person or groups because of their skin colour or national or ethnic origin.

Bolt had written a series of articles challenging the identity and bona fides of “light-skinned Aborigines”. The Court found that the articles “contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”. Bolt did not appeal the decision.

The Federal government has signalled its intention to review the RDA in light of the Bolt case but community groups have rallied to the RDA’s defence.

“We have now spoken to Federal MP’s in the Coalition, ALP, the Greens, Independents and the minor parties and have been receiving across the board expressions of support for our position”, a spokesperson for the group said.

“Once people understand that the existing law only applies to serious cases and requires an objective test to be satisfied based on community standards, rather than a subject test based on hurt feelings, it becomes clear that the current law has nothing to do with limiting free speech. It does not stop anybody from offending or insulting others because of their opinions or beliefs. People can change their opinions or beliefs. But the current law does prohibit publicly offending and insulting others because of their race, which is something people cannot change.”

“Offending and insulting other people because of their race is not about persuasion. It’s about attacking their human dignity.”

The spokesperson said that the breadth and depth of support for the current legislation among members of Parliament from across the political spectrum had “exceeded our most ambitious hopes”. “The Racial Discrimination Act is one of Australia’s most iconic pieces of legislation. It goes to the heart of Australia’s identity as a nation that is both democratic and culturally diverse. The Act ought not to be changed unless there are truly compelling reasons. The outcome of the Bolt case falls a long way short in that regard”.

Ms Kirstie Parker, Co-chair, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
Mr Les Malezer, Co-chair, National Congress of Australia's First Peoples
Mr George Vellis, Co-ordinator, Australian Hellenic Council
Mr Peter Wertheim, Executive Director, Executive Council of Australian Jewry
Mr Patrick Voon, President, Chinese Australian Forum
Mr Tony Pang, Secretary, Chinese Australian Services Society
Mr Vache Kahramanian, Executive Director, Armenian National Committee of Australia
Mr Luke Song, Korean Society of Sydney

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