Date: 
Monday 14 April 2014
Image: 

Today’s Nielsen poll showing 88% of respondents disagree with the contention that it should be lawful to offend, insult or humiliate a person on the basis of race is further evidence that changes to the Racial Discrimination Act are unwarranted and unwanted, said Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane.

“There is a high level of opposition to plans to water-down the Race Discrimination Act,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

“The overwhelming majority of Australians see no need for repealing or amending our racial vilification laws.

“The Nielsen poll results are consistent with the views expressed by multicultural and Indigenous communities, human rights organisations, the legal profession and many other people I have consulted about this issue.

“Racial tolerance is a pillar of Australian public morality. Today’s findings are an emphatic statement of our society’s commitment to civility, decency, and tolerance.

“It is an acknowledgement that race relations should be placed above politics or ideology.”

Since commencing as Race Discrimination Commissioner in August 2013, Dr Soutphommasane has made it clear that current protections against race-based discrimination and vilification should be retained.

In a recent speech, he said the racial vilification laws that have successfully operated in Australia for the past two decades have achieved a number of things.

“Not least, they have influenced the ‘emotional climate of the public culture’, setting the tone for our multicultural society and signalling what is unacceptable behaviour in public.

“They have provided all Australians with a legal means of holding others accountable for public acts of racial vilification that have the effect of degrading them.

“They have bolstered the assurance of security to which every member of a good society is entitled – the sense of confidence that everyone will be treated fairly and justly, that everyone can walk down the street without having to fear abuse or assault.”

Dr Soutphommasane described the moral assumptions behind the case for amending the Racial Discrimination Act as “deeply conservative”.

“In the calls for change, and for greater freedom to express one’s bigotry, we hear not so much the voice of liberalism but the voice of reaction.

“It is a voice that gives expression to a psychology of loss. In those celebrations of free speech, including a freedom to abuse and harass others on racial grounds, what we are really hearing is a longing for a time when Australians could give expression to their prejudice; a time when Australians could be bigots without having to worry about social disapproval.”