States could bolster hate laws if Canberra repeals 18C
by Mark Coultan, State political correspondent, Sydney @mcoultan
This article appeared in The Australian, October 26, 2016
If the federal government repealed section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act the states could look at strengthening their hate-speech laws, NSW Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet said yesterday.
Speaking in response to the Australian Human Rights Commission investigation of The Australian’s cartoonist Bill Leak, Mr Perrottet said he would not support changing NSW law while the federal legislation acted to stifle free speech.
He said the Leak case reinforced his opinion that section 18C — restricting speech “reasonably likely … to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” on the basis of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin” — should be repealed.
He said the NSW government was under pressure to strengthen its racial vilification laws. In August, community groups launched a campaign, Keep NSW Safe, aimed at strengthening race-hate laws.
“From a state perspective, we have an issue in stopping free speech which incites violence.” Mr Perrottet said.
“We have had numerous discussions with a range of groups about potential amendments. My view is: why would we amend that Act when you still have 18C?”
Keep NSW Safe spokesman Vic Alhadeff said the state and federal legislation did not clash. The federal legislation dealt with racial vilification and the NSW law tackled incitement to violence.
“It is being proposed by 25 communities, running through the alphabet from Armenian to Chinese to Greek to Vietnamese … Jewish, Christian, right across the board,” Mr Alhadeff said. “We are calling for the state government to make the promotion of violence on the basis of their race, religion, gender, or sexual identity a crime.”
Mr Alhadeff, head of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, said a call by Islamic group Hizb ut-Tahrir for jihad against Jews had prompted him to write to the government seeking changes to the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.
The act’s racial vilification provisions — despite 25 years ago being the first in the world to criminalise the racist incitement of hatred, contempt or ridicule — have never being used because of procedural impediments.
Three years ago a NSW parliamentary committee recommended extending the statute of limitations, increasing penalties, removing the need for the attorney-general to approve a prosecution and getting the police, rather than the Anti-Discrimination Board, to prepare briefs of evidence. Labor committee members warned that a weakening of federal law would leave gaps in legal protections from discrimination and put increasing pressure on NSW anti-discrimination laws.
All states except Tasmania and the Northern Territory have criminal provisions in their anti- discrimination legislation.