Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Keep 18c of the RDA

Updated 1 May 2014: Shout out and thankyou to the Human Rights Law Centre for making their guide to submissions available and reminder of their invitation to all to provide a public repository for your submission on the Exposure Draft.

Submission Deadline 
Midnight - Canberra time 
30 April 2014

We’re on the home run now - two hours till the deadline - if you wanted to email your submission on the Exposure Draft of the Racial Discrimination Act to the Attorney General.

See my guide 'How to make a submission' below - I did & it took me 10 minutes.

In a nutshell, to repeal 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) would transform 'a bad case into a bad law' (Gillian Triggs, President, Australian Human Rights Commission) would be morally repugnant (coalition of Australian ethnic groups) and have an adverse effect on the already poor health of Indigenous people (Australia’s peak Indigenous health body).
"The spike of complaints of racial hatred show that this is the time we need to maintain strong protections - NOT WEAKEN THEM."
There’s been a lot of words written about why the Act works as well as it can just the way it is. My Twitter timeline is full of it and I’m not the only one.

I’ve had to read a fair few opinion pieces and been glued to the news broadcasts, press conferences, current affair shows and radio shows.

And now I’m tired. I am not a fulltime activist, or even a part time one. I am a writer who at this late hour isn’t inclined to write another essay. But I’ve had to make time over the past month because the forum of public opinion – social media - holds a lot of sway in the racism debate.

I’m not going to ask you what sort of country you want to live in. I can see for myself. Thankfully 88% of survey respondents believe it should be unlawful to offend, insult or humiliate people based on race.
"legislative protections play a key role in shaping acceptable social norms."
I’m not going to ask why people want to repeal provisions that have worked perfectly well for twenty years.

The last time the Racial Discrimination Act was amended was 1995. There were a few reasons why. Over some years, the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody and the National Inquiry into Racist Violence took a good hard look at how Indigenous and ethnic groups were being treated and in 1995 amended the Act.
It’s not surprising that proponents of repeal have little knowledge of this background – half of them must have been still at school or preparing for university and I doubt many if not any of them have ever faced racist abuse.

Now let’s be clear – robust debate is one thing, but in the place where people frequently air and share their views - the comments section of online media - this isn’t it, here or here and definitely not here.
But if you read the hundreds and hundreds of comments you get an idea of what people are bursting to say – in between the demands that the targets of the vitriol just harden up.

We are not talking about say for instance, John Stuart Mill sitting down to debate the issues of freedom of speech, racism and identity over dinner with the likes of Christopher Hitchens. 
We are talking about people who are espousing conditions that they will never have to face. They may speak publicly for minutes, and be lucky to encounter anyone through a buffer of staff and organization. If they could be expected to be confronted at all. They need never have a compelling argument to hand to explain exactly why they think repealing 18c is the right thing to do.
We are talking about ordinary every day people being the brunt of incoherent rage. Debate would be impossible, unsafe and unhealthy.
From reading the comments alone, it’s clear you would have to have a minimum of some social work or hostage negotiation skills; be prepared to repeat yourself hundreds of times; and have a desire to trawl through a cess pool of hate and personal attacks. 
If you didn’t understand the legislation or had no time to read it, the comments of people who support relaxing the provisions should be enough to give you a snapshot of what would be let off the leash.

At their gentlest, people will tell me that the Act isn’t perfect, so they can’t see why its worth hanging on to, and what about the refugees. These same observers will never be a target. That’s almost guaranteed. If Australia was going to have review and amend the RDA, this isn’t the way to do it, and yes, I despair about the refugees too because I know how those who face racism are treated on the mainland.

Breaking news – this was pounced on at the eleventh hour…

Some proponents have eagerly compared the recent NBA scandal in the USA - where President Obama chose not to comment on the audio recording of Los Angeles Clippers team owner Donald Sterling, having already heard Sterling dig his own hole and jump in – to the debate around the Exposure Draft, because it can be used in two ways.

The NBA Commissioner has thrown the rule book at Sterling, and invoked the clause around "conduct...detrimental to the Association" with a $2.7m fine, a life ban and all going to plan, he will be relinquishing ownership of his team. 

Repeal proponents can point to this as either a stirling example of  'we don't need no legislation' or an overkill of hurt feelings. It's neither. 
The cost to the team owner is immense. People who were well aware of the dangers of racism on people's well being (and no doubt financial status) took action. The black athletes in particular do not want people with that attitude in their sport or in their lives.  They can't stamp out the 'don't associate with black people in public' attitude but they can be very clear about calling attention to just how pervasive that type of racism is in our society.

Let’s compare them, shall we? Multi millionaire black athletes held in high esteem in a country where the term N-word originated because unlike Australia, they don’t think it’s okay to use any or all of the word. And for very good reason. 
… following an interview with one of the Australian Human Rights Commissioners, an outspoken ‘repeal advocate’ – the journalist followed the Commissioners line of argument with the obvious question… culminating in the N-word trending nationally. ...
Where every time one of these athletes - let alone an entire team - takes off their uniform on tv, a hundred sports apparel store fairies die. 
18c of the RDA is a long way from the racism drama that's embroiled the NBA. A very, very long way. It's in chicken little territory to compare them.

There is no need to repeal 18c of the RDA.

How to make a submission fact sheet is here. [Human Rights Law Centre]
  • You do not need to be lawyer - and you do not need to understand technical legal issues.
  • There is no required format for a submission. 

If you don’t agree with the Exposure Draft…say so

  • Yes, we need laws to protect against racial vilification in Australia;
  • Yes, the current laws are working well;
  • No,  you don’t agree with the Government’s proposed changes to the laws;
  • and include any ideas you have about how to prevent racial vilification.

By midnight eastern standard time (Canberra) 30 April 2014 

Do you want your submission made public?

  • Put it on your own website
  • Send it to your MP
  • Email it to orgs that will have repositories of submissions

 Why make a submission?

We can all agree that there are better ways to get along. We can come together over sport, the arts, food or just by getting to know people you work with, study beside or live in your neighbourhood. The reason why every ethnic group opposes the repeal is we know exactly what it means. It gives a green light to the racism that we all know is out there.

Let's not forget – this act isn’t being repealed because racism went away.

And I’ll end with a yarn…
I wanted to supplement this with some vision, and spent some time searching and couldn’t find the particular footage taken on the day of the 1967 Referendum.

What the Referedum actually meant is here but the decision of 90% of the population was ‘Yes’ to the question on Indigenous Australians.
This time on a different question, we are asking people to join us in saying ‘No’.

In 1967 the news was in black and white so I don’t know what colour their clothes were, or the bat wing glasses and the hats on the ladies. I’ve seen the footage a number of times and the most memorable is a vox pop where a lady explains why she voted ‘yes’. 
She explained ...she knew her husband was intending on voting ‘no’. Public opinion was riding high in favour of 'yes', but her husband was determined that his ‘no’ vote would count. So his wife explained in measured tones, she voted ‘yes’ because it would cancel out her husband's ‘no’ vote.

This isn’t a vote – it’s a submission - and this is a government that has a small well resourced group spruiking for a repeal, and contrarians who make a living from being…well contrary. So those who don’t want a green light given to rampant racism and abuse, we need more than a ‘one for one’. We need as many as we can get.

You still have time – join us. And if you miss the submission deadline, send your thoughts to your local MP. Post it on your website. Use social media. 

And I’ll finish on a sporting story – because Australians love sport. It’s where we meet, relax and unite.

Australian cricket coach Darren Lehmann looks back on his racial outburst against Sri Lanka more than a decade ago as ''the biggest mistake of my life'.

At the very least, shouldn’t our society be held to the same standards as our sporting arenas?

These days I’m starting to meet people who want to make a confession to an Aboriginal person and I seem available. They want to tell me of those occasions when they did or didn’t act, and to tell me why – the pressures they faced, the lack of information, that it was a different time, that they meant well.
I really don’t know what to do with their shame and their regret. I can’t absolve them.
Or maybe you have more in common with the anonymous lady from 1967 – you had a mind of your own, and you used it. 

There is no need to repeal 18c of the RDA.



Quotes from Blayke Tatafu @BlaykeTatafu


  1. Thanks Siv!! Between you and Luke reminding me, I managed to get my "say" on the record. Here's hoping they're listening hey.

  2. Hiya Leesa! I was busy doing my own submission and thought I'd just make it easier for anyone who was thinking about it and post some links.
    It took years of meetings and drafts before they amended the Act in 1995. To repeal 18c and amend the RDA in the way they have flagged - a one page exposure draft and minimal consultation does not sound like an adequate process.