Prime Minister Tony Abbott has scrapped plans to water down the Racial Discrimination Act as the Government moves to tighten up anti-terrorism laws.
The Government made an election promise to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which outlaws comments that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” because of race or ethnicity.
The pledge came after conservative commentator Andrew Bolt was found guilty under the Act for a newspaper column in which he targeted nine leading Aboriginal Australians for their white heritage.
Attorney-General George Brandis had pushed for the repeal of 18C saying people had the “right to be a bigot”, but the move even managed to unite even Jewish and Arab communities, among a range of ethnic community groups, in their opposition to any changes.
At his media conference this afternoon to unveil changes to anti-terrorism laws, the Prime Minister said he made a “leadership call” on the racial discrimination issue in the name of “national unity” after discussions with the Cabinet today.
While some championed the abolition of 18C as a free speech issue, the plan attracted more than 4000 submissions with three-quarters opposed to the changes.
Abbott said the issue was a “complication” in the new anti-terrorism laws and “I don’t want to do anything that puts our national unity at risk”.
“I’m a passionate supporter of free speech and if we were starting from scratch with section 18C we wouldn’t have words such as offend and insult in the legislation. But we aren’t starting from scratch. We are dealing with the situation we find ourselves in and I want the communities of the country to be our friend not our critic,” he said.
Not everyone was happy with Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson taking to Twitter to say he was “very disturbed”.
Disturbed to hear the government has backed down on 18C and will keep offensive speech illegal. Very disturbed.
— Tim Wilson (@timwilsoncomau) August 5, 2014
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