Race hate laws backdown has wide support

The federal government’s backdown from its proposed Racial Discrimination Act changes has been met with elation from multicultural and migrant groups.

On Tuesday prime minister Tony Abbott said it was a ‘‘leadership call’’ to walk away from proposed changes to Section 18C of the act, which had been widely criticised by ethnic community leaders and the wider public.

Jane Corpuz-Brock, CEO of Granville-based Immigrant Women’s Speakout Association which lodged a government submission to oppose the changes, thanked the prime minister for ‘‘listening to the people’’.

‘‘This process has brought people together,’’ Ms Corpuz-Brock said.

‘‘It provided a clearer picture that actually, the majority of us Australians want to have that law stay as it is.

‘‘That’s why we wish to congratulate the federal government for listening to the people about 18C.’’

Ms Corpuz-Brock called for wide-ranging national discussion on the issues of racism and free speech to continue.

‘‘We need to improve the way we look at each other and understand certain people from different races.

‘‘There are people who would really want to use freedom of speech to further vilify certain people in the community," the statement said.

On Tuesday, Bella Vista-based news magazine The Indian Telegraph published a Facebook status update to thank those who supported the campaign.

‘‘Australia witnessed a true unity in diversity on this issue,’’ the Telegraph’s status read.

In an statement emailed to the Sun, the Telegraph team said the voice of the community had been heard due to the "unrelenting efforts" of community activists.

"This is a win for democracy, for multicultural Australia and for all Australians. This is a win for everyone," the statement said.

"In a community forum conducted by The Indian Telegraph at the Marayong Community Centre on July 24 it became very clear that not only ordinary citizens but even politicians on both sides of the fence... could not fathom why the repeal was needed."

Granville Multicultural Community Centre manager Paula Chegwidden was also pleased.

‘‘We celebrate the diversity of our community and support legislation that protects people from vilification based on racial or ethnic grounds,’’ Ms Chegwidden said.

The Arab Council of Australia welcomed the prime minister’s announcement as ‘‘the right leadership call’’.

‘‘It is gratifying that community voices have been heard,” said the council’s CEO Randa Kattan 

“I would like to pay tribute to our brothers and sisters in other community organisations who joined us in the campaign against the proposed changes. I am convinced that this battle was won by the strength and breadth of community support we pulled together in a very short time."

Aboriginal-run health services body the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation welcomed the move away from ‘‘watering down’’ protections against racism.

“It is little wonder communities across Australia have reacted so strongly against the watering down of provisions in the Racial Discrimination Act under Section 18C,’’ said NACCHO chairperson Justin Mohamed.

Mr Mohamed said it was proven racism could have detrimental effects on the health of Aboriginal people and ‘‘strong laws’’ were needed to protect them against it.

Refugee Council of Australia chief executive officer Paul Power said the backlash against proposed changes to weaken provisions of the Act underlined strong public support for laws to protect people from offensive, insulting and humiliating speech on the basis of race.

He said the council believed the amendments would have provided a licence to the community to engage in racist behaviour that could culminate acts of racially-motivated violence.

“Refugee communities in Australia will welcome the positive leadership shown by Prime Minister Tony Abbott to preserve the Racial Discrimination Act as a protection against race hate," Mr Power said.

President of the Igbo Community Australia (ICA) for African Australians, Dr Vin Ogu, welcomed the backdown. The ICA, a Nigerian-African community, had made a submission expressing opposition to the changes.

"Australia will be better for it as it will put beyond doubt that there is no place for racial vilification under any guise in the Australian society," Dr Ogu said.

Dr Ogu said the African-Australian community "overwhelmingly" welcomed the development.

However, free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs described the backdown as a broken promise and a loss for free speech and democracy.

“The Coalition’s failure to fulfil its promise to restore free speech in Australia by repealing section 18C... is incredibly disappointing,” said executive director John Roskam.

“Freedom of speech is fundamental to democracy. If people are not free to debate and discuss ideas then we no longer live in a free society. To retain section 18C is to reject basic liberal principles.’’

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