Provisions that protect the community from racial hatred remain in place, for now, following the Federal Government’s announcement to shelve plans to amend Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Uniting Church President Rev Prof Andrew Dutney welcomed the announcement that proposed changes to the Act were taken off the table.
“I thank the Prime Minister for his leadership on this matter and pay tribute to all the community leaders who stood together to oppose the changes,” Prof Dutney said.
“This decision is a positive outcome for our democracy in that elected leaders are willing to receive and accept feedback from the community.
“It is a credit to our nation that as a community we have left no one in any doubt that bigotry and racism are totally unacceptable.”
Often referred to as ‘Bolt’s law’, referring to columnist Andrew Bolt, the Government floated changes that would have drastically watered down the protections against race based discrimination.
The proposed changes would have removed the protection from offence, humiliation and insult, and focussed the definition of intimidation narrowly on physical harm or the threat of physical harm.
Alarmingly, the changes included a new exemption that could have made it legal to incite racial hatred.
In early August the Prime Minister announced that the changes would not go ahead. This followed a period of community consultation in which over 4000 submissions were received.
Documents obtained by Fairfax newspapers under freedom of information showed that over three quarters of those submissions argued against the Government’s proposals.
This included submissions from Uniting Church members in Victoria and Tasmania.
“The Commission for Mission continues to resource church members to use their own voice to speak up for the issues they care about,” Justice and International Mission unit director Dr Mark Zirnsak said.
“When individuals speak for themselves, as part of collective action, the results can be very significant. It directly shows Governments and organisations the level of feeling, both in terms of intensity and sheer numbers, about a particular issue in the community.
“In turn this can help change the tone of the conversation in the community.
“We found that, in the case of the proposed changes to Section 18C, the conversation in the community and amongst church members quickly became about the kind of society we want to create for the future. People clearly articulated that they wanted a society of harmony and respect and one where people are free from discrimination,” Dr Zirnsak said.
In addition, the Victorian and Tasmania synod co-signed a formal submission, along with 19 other multicultural and faith based organisations from Victoria, while UnitingJustice made a formal submission on behalf of the Uniting Church Assembly.