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. What would you like to do?
What kind of society do we want Australia to be?
a country that embraces our people along with their race and ethnicity or a country that encourages their citizens to be ‘bigots’ as suggested by the attorney general, George Brandis.
A society’s laws reveal the values they hold.
And with the current heated debate happening around the watering down of the racial discrimination laws makes me question how we want the rest of the world to perceive us.
Australia hasn’t had a proud history especially with the Indigenous population.
- We are still, and will be for a long period of time, trying to reconcile the relationships.
- Does changing the laws so that racial discrimination becomes more acceptable help with this?
At it’s current state, the racial discrimination act 18C states that
it is unlawful to say anything that is “reasonably likely … to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” because of their “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”.
There are also exemptions to this
including if it is done in good faith and to do with genuine academic, artistic or scientific purposes
With the newly proposed laws,
they want to change “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” to just “vilify and intimidate”.
Along with these they have also provided specific definitions of these words
By “vilify”, they mean that it must “incite hatred”. Which means you could be verbally abused on a bus but if it doesn’t incite hatred from a third party, it’s still legal. And how would you even prove this in court. And 'intimidation' is only specifically related to physical threats.
But the MOST absurd part of this new proposed act is what is exempt from this already narrowly defined law:
- It states that Any "public discussion of any political, social, cultural (or) religious" matter will be exempt
- With this exemption in place, what is unlawful?
These laws were put in place for a purpose:
to draw a line between free speech, and hate speech.
The main reasons for the changes seem to be to “promote free speech”
- but the honest truth is, these laws have barely stopped anyone from saying what they believe. People are bigots all the time, just read a newspaper.
- In the last financial year, there were 192 racial discrimination cases. Only 5 were taken to federal court and the rest solved through conciliation.
Another common justification is that we shouldn’t have a law that protects “mere hurt feelings”.
Unfortunately, many people who join this debate aren’t educated on the matter. The law specifically says that it is only unlawful if it is reasonably likely to cause ''profound and serious effects'', as opposed to ''mere slights''. So what are the actual reasons for these changes?
But we can’t get too preoccupied with the legalities.
This is precisely the problem right now. What everyone seems to be ignoring are the people whom these changes will actually affect. These changes affect real people and cause real hurt.
Coincidentally, those who are adamant about these changes, Tony Abbot, George Brandis, have probably never even experienced any type of racial vilification.
They probably haven’t had to avoid school or work in the fear of being racially harrassed. They’ve probably never even been assaulted or called “chink”, “ape”, “curry muncher” yet still they believe that they should be the ones to make the decisions.
Being racially abused is something not many people understand unless you have experienced it.
It causes mental harm, strips people of their dignity and they are made inferior just because of their race or ethnicity. For some, it stops them from being a part of society as a result of fear.
These current laws provide a way for these victims to seek redress and it is the only way for the bullies to be held accountable.
Once the laws change, what can they do?
Shouldn’t they listen to the people who these actually affect and the various communities that have spoken against it?
All the government will be doing is make bullies believe that they have the right to racially vilify others.
And as the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote 'total liberty for wolves is death for the lambs''
Now, I’d like to back to the initial question: What kind of society do we want Australia to be?
What would you like to do?
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