By GRACE JENNINGS-EDQUIST
There’s a lot of talk around today about racial discrimination laws.
As you might’ve gathered, the Federal government was planning to change them, but then abandoned that move yesterday.
If you haven’t got your head around the whole issue yet — or if you’re too embarrassed to ask a friend what those laws actually are — read on. We’ve put together a five-minute guide that should have you sorted (for your next dinner party, at least.)
So, what’s going on?
In news that has been welcomed by Labor and the Greens — and angered conservative columnist Andrew Bolt — the Abbott government has backed down on its planned changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the decision not to go ahead with the changes was a ‘leadership call’.
“Leadership is about preserving national unity on the essentials and that is why I have taken this position,” he said. ‘‘We are dealing with the situation we find ourselves in and I want the communities of the country to be our friend not our critic.”
Wait, what even ARE these laws?
The Commonwealth government has introduced various anti-discrimination laws over the last 30 years, and one of those laws is a piece of legislation called the Racial Discrimination Act. (It was passed during the dying months of the Whitlam government.)
As Amy Stockwell previously wrote on Mamamia, section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1995 makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person or group because of their “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”.
Meanwhile, section 18D effectively provides a defence to conduct committed in breach of 18C if the conduct was done for a particular reason, reasonably and in good faith.
Those two sections work together, as Stockwell wrote: so, section 18C provides freedom from racial prejudice, and section 18D provides a balance to protect freedom of speech on matters of public interest.
Got it? Law lecture over.
Why do people think s18C needs to be changed?
Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is the law that was used against Andrew Bolt in 2011, and consequently became known as the “Bolt laws”.
That lawsuit related to two 2009 blog posts Bolt wrote alleging that a number of fair-skinned Indigenous Australians were pretending to be Aboriginal for personal gain.
Nine Aboriginal people sued Bolt and his employer, The Herald and Weekly Times, under section 18C — and in 2011, Justice Bromberg of the Federal Court found Bolt had breached the section, as Stockwell wrote.
On hearing the decision, Andrew Bolt immediately declared it “a terrible day for free speech in this country”.
The Abbott government made a pre-election promise to repeal section 18C of the Act, and Attorney-General Senator George Brandis later released a draft of new provisions for the Act.