The Liberal government on Tuesday unveiled a draft of its proposed legislation to replace race hate laws that have existed for almost 20 years and have been used successfully by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.
Under the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, it would no longer be illegal to “offend, insult or humiliate” an Australian because of their race or ethnicity. It would, however, be illegal to vilify or intimidate someone based on their race or ethnicity.
Defending the draft legislation in parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Tony Abbott said: “What the government are proposing to do is to maintain the red light on inciting racial hatred, but we are removing the amber light on free speech.”
Jewish groups are fuming over the proposed changes. Robert Goot, president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, said the draft law was “deeply flawed” and “rips up key protections” to ethnic groups in Australia.
“This legislation gives the green light to unleashing racial hate speech in Australia, no matter how unreasonable and lacking in good faith,” he said.
Dr. Colin Rubenstein, of the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, concurred. The proposed amendment “removes any protection against public insults and humiliation on the grounds of race,” he said.
“To pass the amendments as they stand would risk emboldening racists, threatening the quality of life of ethnic minorities in Australia and seriously straining the fabric of our social cohesion and harmony.”
The showdown has been brewing since the government’s pre-election pledge last year to repeal race hate laws in a bid to protect freedom of speech. It has become the only major fault line between Jewish leaders and the government, which is unapologetically supportive of Israel. …
Attorney-General George Brandis, who has consulted with Jewish community leaders on his proposed amendments, said in parliament this week that Australians had “a right to be bigots.”
His comments were met by a chorus of condemnation from a diverse array of ethnic community representatives.
“I have always said that freedom of speech and the need to protect people from racial vilification are not inconsistent objectives,” he said. “Laws which are designed to prohibit racial vilification should not be used as a vehicle to attack legitimate freedoms of speech.”