Whether you’re a Joe, Jane, Raaj or Sima, you’re invited to an upcoming community forum about the federal government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
On July 24, staff from the Indian Telegraph newspaper based in Bella Vista will host a meeting at the Marayong Community Centre to debate federal government plans to remove sections of the Act, including 18C.
‘‘The question has been, if it’s working, why change it?’’
S18C currently provides safeguards that make it unlawful to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" another person or a group of people because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.
Editor of the monthly newspaper, Arijit Banarji, told the Sun his team organised the forum due to strong feedback against the proposed changes from Indian subcontinent communities in Australia, primarily from western Sydney.
‘‘Nobody wants to change it. Basically the question has been if it’s working, why change it?’’ Mr Banarji said.
‘‘We will have members of the Liberal Party present at the forum and I’m sure members of the community will be asking them what they are doing.’’
Journalist Kartik Mohandas, of Parramatta, said he was keen to read the ‘‘social barometer’’ as far as the repeal of 18C was concerned.
‘‘This forum is a way to get people together and have a very open chat,’’ Mr Mohandas said.
‘‘You’ll find mostly with the Indian community they’re quite soft spoken and reserved about their candid thoughts. They’ll quite often be diplomatic and reserved. We want to draw them out of their shells.’’
Indian Telegraph director Indrajeet Magar, of Quakers Hill, said this was the first forum his paper had organised and that he hoped the community would speak up on this issue.
"After the forum, the findings will go to the respective authorities and we'll present a case to them by the end of August," Mr Magar said.
Community organisations have been invited to attend including the United India Association, India Club, the Council of Indian Australians, India Aus Inc and the Global Organisation of People of Indian Origin.
Asked for his stance on the proposed changes, former GOPIO Sydney North West chapter president Harry Walia said Australia's "multicultural harmony" would be affected.
"No one will have respect for each other's culture or ethnicity. Individual or group vilification will come to the fore front," Mr Walia said.
"With the existing Act, we have the rights to defend the acts of most offensive people in our society."
If the federal government’s plans proceed, it will only be unlawful to ‘‘incite hatred’’ against a person or group or ‘‘cause [them] fear of physical harm’’.
The proposed change would also mean that whether or not an act was likely to have incited hatred or caused fear of violence would be determined by the standards of ‘‘ordinary’’ Australians, not by the standards of any particular group.
Politicians set to attend the forum include Parramatta state Liberal MP Geoff Lee, who told the Sun the proposed changes would send the ‘‘wrong signal’’ about Australia.
‘‘18C doesn’t need to be changed. I think if you look at the exemptions in the Act, they allow debate, whether it’s in an artistic work or a performance or academic discourse,’’ Dr Lee said.
‘‘It’s wrong to be a bigot, it’s not your right to express that publicly.’’
In May, Dr Lee spoke against the proposal in state parliament. He said he has spoken to federal Liberal Party counterparts to express his concern about the plans.
In April, Parramatta lord mayor John Chedid told the Sun the planned changes were a federal matter.
‘‘While I condemn racism in any shape or form, this is a complex legal issue which is the sole responsibility of the federal government. I’m keeping my focus on local issues,’’ Cr Chedid said.
In April, Attorney-General Senator George Brandis said laws which are designed to prohibit racial vilification should not be used as a vehicle to attack ‘‘legitimate freedom of speech’’.
He said the government’s exposure draft strengthened protections against racism by including for the first time in Commonwealth law a specific prohibition against racial vilification.
Questions on Arijit's agenda:
1. Why the change? Does the Act need to be altered?
2. If the changes do go through, how will they impact not just you, but your future generations to come?
3. Particularly to the Opposition, what steps will they take to prevent these changes from happening and if they win government and what will they do to bring back the safeguards?
To attend the forum, RSVP to: firstname.lastname@example.org