Australia's Proposed Free Speech Changes Restore The Right To 'Offend', 'Humiliate' And 'Insult'

Attorney-General George Brandis (Photo: Getty Images)

Attorney-General George Brandis said the government would seek to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which will be replaced with a much stronger clause that also preserves freedom of speech in Australia.

“These are the strongest protections against racism that have ever appeared in any Commonwealth Act,” Brandis said, a day after he said citizens had the right to be bigoted during a Senate debate.

A new section would be inserted into the Act to replace the so-called “Andrew Bolt laws” that will preserve existing protections against racism, while at the same time removing legislation which “unreasonably” limits freedom of speech, the attorney-general said in a press conference.

Sections 18B, 18D and 18E would also be replaced through the reform.

Prominent columnist Andrew Bolt was convicted under section 18C of the Act for making comments about Australian Aboriginal culture.

“It sends a strong message about the kind of society that we want to live in where freedom of speech is able to flourish and racial vilification and intimidation are not tolerated,” Brandis said.

The new amendment makes it illegal to vilify or intimidate on the grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin.

However, the section does not apply to statements “published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic, or scientific matter”.

“The words offend, insult and humiliate are going,” Brandis said. “You can not have a public debate without insulting a person who has a strong contrary view.”

The draft reforms will be released for community consultation, with submissions open until 30 April 2014.

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