- Federal racial discrimination legislation and the processes of the Australian Human Rights Commission are currently the subjects of a parliamentary joint committee inquiry into ‘Freedom of speech in Australia’. The committee is due to report by 28 February 2017.
- The case law is settled on the balance between freedom of speech and freedom from racial vilification, however public debate seems to continue about the operation of the legislation and the role of the AHRC.
- This article endeavours to dispel some of the common misconceptions that have characterised the debate.
Federal racial hatred legislation and the complaints-handling processes of the Australian Human Rights Commission (‘AHRC’) are currently the subjects of an inquiry by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The Committee’s ‘Freedom of speech in Australia’ inquiry, due to report by 28 February 2017, is giving particular attention to sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).
It is a sign of a healthy democracy that our laws and institutions are subject to scrutiny from parliament. However, ongoing public debate about freedom of speech and racial vilification laws has been characterised by misconceptions about the Racial Discrimination Act and the AHRC.
There is a need for clearer public understanding of how the Act and the AHRC in fact operate.