The Senate Inquiry into the Human Rights Legislation Amendment Bill 2017
received eleven submissions with the majority coming from organisations
representing multicultural groups and lawyers with expertise in human rights.
Despite the evidence provided and concerns raised, the Chair's report
recommends that this bill be passed.
Schedule 1 of the bill significantly amends the scope of 18C of the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975.
A majority of submitters stated that the proposed changes to 18C that
remove the words 'offend, insult, humiliate' and substitute 'harass' would
weaken the current protections which exist against racial vilification in
Dr Emma Campbell, Director, Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils
of Australia stated in evidence to the committee that:
Changing 18C and weakening the Racial Discrimination Act, as
proposed in this bill, would grant a licence to those who want to undo
Australia's great, harmonious, tolerant and cohesive multicultural society. The
message would be clear: it is acceptable in Australia for one person to
verbally attack another, to offend, insult and humiliate based on their race.
After nine years of surveys, the Scanlon Foundation has found this year that
experiences of discrimination in Australia on the basis of skin colour, ethnic
origin or religion are at their highest levels. Put simply, the level of racism
in this country is rising.
The Human Rights Law Centre submitted, in relation to the proposed
amendment to introduce a reasonable person test:
The current objective standard of a reasonable member of the
relevant racial group is being applied sensibly by the courts and should be
retained as part of section 18C of the RDA. To change the test to 'a reasonable
member of the Australian community', as proposed in the Human Rights
Legislation Amendment Bill 2017, would weaken legal protections against racial
vilification and risk reinforcing prejudice, particularly against unpopular
The Law Council of Australia submitted:
....sections 18 and 18D of the RDA, as interpreted by the
Courts, strike an appropriate balance between freedom of expression and
protection from racial vilification, and should not be amended.
The Australian Greens share these concerns and are opposed to any
changes to 18C.
The Schedule 2 amendments propose reforms to the Australian Human
Rights Commission Act 1986.
The Australian Human Rights Commission, while welcoming the majority of
the proposed amendments, submitted that nine of the items:
...would result in additional red tape for the Commission,
would be likely to cause additional delay and added costs for parties to
complaints, and would impede access to justice in relation to meritorious
Their main concerns include the requirement that the Australian Human
Rights Commission notify a person who is not a respondent but who is the
subject of an adverse allegation, the proposed mandatory accept/reject phase,
and that matters discussed during conciliation should remain confidential.
Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights
Commission, in evidence explained the implications of an accept/reject phase:
If it injects a legal challenge process in the middle of it
then immediately you go from a free, confidential process of conciliation to a
potentially expensive and lengthy process of judicial determination. We think
that that is a retrograde step and that it will retard the ability for the
commission to get what at the moment amounts to a 76 per cent success rate of
In relation to the confidentiality issue the Australian Human Rights
If the parties were aware that any offer they make during or
receive during the course of a conciliation conference could be later tendered
in legal proceedings on the question of costs, they would be less likely to
engage meaningfully in the Commission's conciliation process.
That Schedule 1 be rejected by the Senate.
That Schedule 2 be amended to reflect the recommendations of the
Australian Human Rights Commission.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page