Senate rejects 18C amendment

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim.

THERE has been a mixed reaction from leading members of the Jewish community to news that Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act will remain unchanged.

A controversial proposal by the government to replace the words “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” with the term “harass” was killed off in the Senate last week, after months of debate and a parliamentary inquiry.

AJN publisher Robert Magid, a vocal advocate for the need to amend 18C, said, “Our entire history is one of transitioning from governments censoring what we can say and do to a society in which we can express ourselves freely.

“By opposing changes to 18C we are demanding that the law punishes those who have offended someone on grounds of a comment about race.

“Already others have jumped on the bandwagon and pointed out that one can be equally humiliated by reference to their sexuality, to their religion, to their appearance, their physical disability or a host of other potentially offended groups.

“This puts us on a dangerous course to repression.”

However, describing the outcome as “a victory for common sense”, Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) executive director Peter Wertheim said for the Jewish community and other communities, this is a “most important outcome”.

“It means that a key tool that we use on a regular basis to combat racism will remain at our disposal, and the ECAJ will not have to re-litigate issues concerning the unlawfulness of anti-Semitic hate speech that it fought and won in previous cases under the existing law.”

He went on to caution, “Even though polls have repeatedly shown that the vast majority of Australians support the retention of Section 18C in its present form, we cannot rule out the possibility that further attempts will be made against it in the future. We must and we will remain vigilant.”

Jeremy Jones, director of community and international affairs at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, concurred, stating the existing legislation “maintains the correct balance between two essential freedoms – freedom of speech and freedom from racist bullying”.