Once again the Racial Discrimination ACT 1975 is under consideration for change


Date:2017-01-03
- Dr. Krishna Hamal, Canberra
 
Once again Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act 1975 has become a red-hot topic for discussion among Australians and international human right activists. The 36th Attorney-General for Australia, George Henry Brandis QC, has made his second attempt to amend the Act in less than three years by referring to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights for an inquiry to amend the Act to make it less restrictive in expressing views of racial discrimination. He had previously tried to amend the Act in 2014, including Section 18C, by releasing an exposure draft Bill on the proposed amendments to the Act and calling for submissions. However, the amendments could not succeed following their opposition by many individuals and organisations, including many multicultural communities of Australia.
 
The Attorney-General once again seems very willing to amend the Section 18C of the Act so that an individual can express his/her views of racial discrimination on another person more freely. Section 18C states that “it is unlawful for a person to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group”. If a person is found to be guilty of breaching the Act, the person will be punished.
 
The previous and current amendments proposed by the Attorney-General appear to have been influenced by the Federal Court’s decision on a comment made by Australia’s famous conservative journalist, newspaper columnist and radio commenter Andrew Bolt on Australia’s half-caste Aboriginal people (fair-skin Aboriginal people born from white fathers and Aboriginal mothers). In his article published in Australian newspapers, Andrew commented that half-caste Aboriginal people are not real Aboriginal people but they have become Aborigines to receive government allowances. Many Aboriginal people felt that they were insulted by Andrew’s comment and, accordingly he was sued by nine Aboriginal people, including former ATSIC chairman Geoff Clark, academic Professor Larissa Behrendt, activist Pat Eatock, photographer Bindi Cole, author Anita Heiss, Queensland Government Minister Leeanne Enoch, native title expert Graham Atkinson, academic Wayne Atkinson, and lawyer Mark McMillan, in the Federal Court of Australia under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Andrew was found guilty for his comment under Section 18C of the Act.
 
Australians have always remained divided in their opinions on Section 18C since the Act was introduced in 1975. Therefore, it is no surprise to see some Australians welcoming the Federal Court’s judgment, while some others not being happy with the judgment. The Liberal Party of Australia considers that the current Act is too harsh on freedom of speech and suggests that individuals should have right to freely express their views on any issue no matter whether their views offend or insult another individual or a group of individuals because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin. Hence, the current Turnbull Liberal Government wishes to amend the Act and, therefore called the current inquiry for its amendment. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights had invited individuals and organisations for their submissions (opinions and proposals) on the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, including Section 18C and 18D, by Friday 9th December 2016. It has also commenced public hearings from Monday 12 December in Canberra. 
 
As per its history, Australia has come a long way in eliminating racial discrimination in the country and thereby becoming a multicultural country. Its White Australian Policy, which was introduced in 1850’s to prevent people of non-European descent to immigrate to Australia, was designed to make Australia a country of white only. However, with the decline in the number of prisoner arrivals from Britain, Australia felt an acute shortage of labour force to work in the Australian mining and agriculture sectors. Hence, Australia started gradually dismantling the elements of the White Australian Policy since 1949, mainly to bring Chinese workers to work in its mining sector and Indians and Pacific Islanders to work in its agricultural sector. The policy was completely dismantled in 1973. With this and the passing of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 by the Whitlam Labor Government, multiculturalism started to flourish in Australia from 1975 onwards. As a result, presently people from more than 200 countries call Australia their home, about 25 per cent of the total population are born overseas and around 4 million of its population speak a language other than English. Many Asian languages are taught in schools and universities in Australia to encourage Australians to learn languages other than English for better communication with the rest of the world for trade advantages. 
 
It is fact that the Federal, State and Territory Governments have been promoting multiculturalism to bring harmony among all the communities of Australia in order to achieve socio-economic development in the country. No one should, knowingly or unknowingly, attempt to ruin the achievements of multiculturalism in Australia. Hence, the present Turnbull Government has asked individuals and organisations to present their views on the proposed changes in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. This is the time that we, the Nepalese community of Australia, put forward what we think about the amendments. 
 
In my view, there is no place for racial discrimination in the present globalised and multicultural world. Historical incidents clearly indicate that the presence of racial discrimination in any form in a country would quickly destroy the fabric of social harmony of that country and thereby lead the country to economic and social collapse. In South Africa, the apartheid policies had devastating impact on the socio-economic development of the country. The impact of racial discrimination is even worse in Zimbabwe where President Robert Mugabe’s policy of taking over white-owned farms resulted an economic collapse with unemployment rate as high as 90 percent, inflation running at 250 million percent, 80 percent of the population living on just $2 per day, scarce supply of foods and other daily consumption items and the average life expectancy falling from 57 years to 34 years for women and from 54 years to 37 years for men. Mugabe is also alleged for ethnic cleansing against the Ndebele people, killing 20,000 of them in Matabeleland in western Zimbabwe. The genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur and the Nazi Germany present many examples of the shocking consequences of racial discrimination.
 
As long as we feel being offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by others on the basis of our race, colour, nationality or ethnic origin, we cannot feel comfortable in our settlement in Australia and cannot feel Australia as being our own home. We are likely feel a second class citizen. Australia’s social harmonisation process will stop and people from different race, colour, nationality and ethnicity would find it difficult to talk to each other and live side by side. This will have a negative impact on our opportunities and achievements and will adversely affect the continuity of the high economic growth achieved in the last four decades. Therefore, it is our responsibility to unite together and fight any form of racial discrimination in Australia. The proposed amendments will certainly encourage racial discrimination in Australia in the name of freedom of speech as they will allow individuals to express their racial views on other individuals more freely than before. Hence, we unitedly must say “no” to the proposed amendments in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.