Sections of the Racial Discrimination Act which allow race-hate court claims based on insults and offence are so damaging to freedom of speech they must be repealed, and not just amended, according to the most comprehensive submission to the parliamentary committee investigating the laws.
The above must be the most tortured sentence ever. 18C is not about “race hate”, it kills free speech. No gov’t and no judiciary should be trusted with protecting you or me from being insulted or offended.
Yesterday, as the Human Rights Commission hardened its defence of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and suggested merely “clarifying” the terms of “insult and offend”, the parliamentary committee was also told the law violates the right of free speech, is secretive, punishes defendants through process and may be unconstitutional.
In a 58-page submission to the legal and constitutional parliamentary committee tasked with considering changes to improve the controversial section 18C and the procedures of the Human Rights Commission, the Institute of Public Affairs argues the laws deny freedom of speech, erode democracy, undermine attempts to combat racism and have a “chilling effect” on debate about serious social issues.
“Only by removing the law from the statute books entirely can parliament restore Australians’ right to freedom of speech, improve our liberal democracy, and eliminate the sundry abuses that it has caused,” the submissions from the conservative think tank says.
The committee is examining possible changes to section 18C and the procedures of the Human Rights Commission after a judge threw out a racial hatred case brought against three university students from Queensland University of Technology being sued for $250,000 in damages by indigenous QUT staffer Cindy Prior for Facebook comments.
The IPA said section 18C “does not protect any other natural right that might reasonably be said to countermand the right to freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended. Nor does individual dignity demand this kind of restriction on free expression”.
The submission said 18C was also bad for democracy and limited the range of ideas people could express by its “chilling effect” on debate.
“Moreover, freedom of speech strengthens social cohesion by exposing bad ideas and malevolent actors, rather than allowing them to fester in silence,” the submission said. “The third limb of the case for repeal is that in practice the law has proved unworkable and unfair. The law does nothing to prevent the kinds of racism that people are most likely to encounter, overlaps with other laws to the point of redundancy, and is so poorly drafted that significant uncertainty about its key terms persists.
“Indeed, the law may well be an unconstitutional exercise of the external affairs power or an unconstitutional burden on Australians’ implied right to freedom of political communication.”
It said proposals to amend the act and substitute “vilify” for “insult” or “offend” or simply remove insult and offend and leave “humiliate” would be inadequate.
During the committee hearing yesterday Gillian Triggs backed away from her earlier suggestions that replacing or removing “insult and offend” could be a solution. The commission believed it would be “a retrograde step to amend it” because it would put the law “right back to square one”.
She demands answers from everybody else, but Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs isn’t inclined to offer answers of her own.
Hedley Thomas has the story:
Gillian Triggs was contemptuous of politicians and delivered a “gross insult” to Australian judges with her refusal to answer the questions of senators inquiring into the 18C case against QUT students, according to their lawyer.
Tony Morris QC told senator Ian Macdonald, chair of the legal and constitutional affairs committee, there was no legal basis for Professor Triggs to state she could not speak about the case as it was “before the Federal Court”.
Professor Triggs also told senators on Monday she “cannot discuss the QUT case because of the absolute requirement of confidentiality”. However, she had talked about several of its features on the ABC in interviews with Radio National Breakfast and 7.30 in early November.
In other Triggsly developments:
The Australian Human Rights Commission has dropped a third complaint about Bill Leak’s provocative cartoon depicting a neglectful indigenous father, the last of the known complaints about the artwork invoking section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs’s delegate Jodie Bell yesterday wrote to The Australian to advise it was closing the complaint by Bruce Till, a disability pensioner from the Kimberley town of Fitzroy Crossing who last month told The Australian he did not like the cartoon but wanted the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia to withdraw his complaint.
The Human Rights Commission should be abolished and every cent of its funding be directed towards something useful, like anything else besides the Human Rights Commission. A government-run rabbit breeding program would be more valuable.