Saturday, March 6, 2021

Exclusive: Section 18c A protection we cannot afford to lose

Reading Time: 3 minutesAustralians value freedom of expression but laws against hate speech are still essential

- Advertisement -

Australia is a country of great diversity. You can see it in the faces of the people that you work with. You can see it in the restaurants that line the main streets of our towns. And you can see it in the variety of religious and cultural events celebrated around the country: Chinese New Year, Diwali, Hanukkah, Ramadan and Christmas to name a few.


However, the treatment of the Aboriginal peoples in this country stands as a chilling reminder that tolerance has not always been embraced. The Cronulla riots similarly reminds us how quickly what we have achieved can be put at risk.


The proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act were put forward on the basis that the current wording of s.18C inappropriately constrains our freedom of speech. That section makes it unlawful to do an act in public which “is reasonably likely… to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” if “the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person ”.


There is no doubt that freedom of speech is important but it is importantbecause of the role it plays in our democracy. Freedom of speech ensures that when you or I go to the ballot box we can make an informed decision about who to vote for. Freedom of speech is necessary so that as a community, we can debate political ideas and so that individuals can have a say on decisions that affect them.


Section 18C ensures that everyone has a role to play in that debate.


A flourishing society also requires more than just freedom of speech; it requires security, stability, a just legal system and a vibrant economy.


That is why freedom of speech is not absolute. In this country, it is criminal to disclose secrets which risk the lives of Australian soldiers. It is likewise a crime for a corporate executive to disclose market sensitive information to his mates. The law protects us from slander and protects privileged comments made to our lawyers.


As a society, we recognise that these restrictions do not hurt our democracy or way of life. Indeed, we understand that they are necessary to maintain it. And laws against hate speech are no less necessary, because racism and bigotry tear at the heart of our social fabric.


Racism and bigotry leave people feeling exiled in their own home. They do not improve the quality of public debate nor do they assist the wise completion of a ballot paper. They are insidious because they attack a person because of their identity; their heritage. They imply that a person is inferior because of who they are. They are hurtful, divisive and can lead to individuals and entire communities feeling unwanted, unvalued and second-class.


Comments today can also revive memories of past wrongs. Unfortunately, few ethnic groups have been spared the pain of racially justified persecution. Examples such as slavery in the United States and the Holocaust are well known. In recent times, the world has seen genocides in Rwanda and Bosnia, while today in North Korea persecution is justified by racial supremacy.


Together, we have built a vibrant, rich and diverse society. A society not focused on the differences between us, but founded on the strengths our differences afford us. Section 18C stands, not as a threat to freedom of speech, but as a protector of the purposes which that freedom serves, and as a guard to an achievement exceptional in this time and rare in times before.

Matt Kean is the Member for Hornsby and Parliamentary Secretary for Communities.

- Advertisement -

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here


Ep 9: What do young Indians want from love?

Growing up in Indian culture, most of us know that love has never been as popular as marriage. Even in the movies, the main...

Ep 8: Indian links in Indigenous Australian poet Ali Cobby Eckermann’s...

To celebrate NAIDOC week 2020 (between 8-15 November) I spoke to Yakunytjatjara poet Ali Cobby Eckermann about her time in India where she taught...

Ep 7: In the case of Sushant Singh Rajput

  The torrid and high-octane Sushant Singh Rajput case has been fodder for Indian people and press for the last few months. The actor’s tragic...

Latest News

Guess The Song rj ekta

LISTEN: Will you be the one to correctly guess this tune?

  Are you good with guessing tunes? Keen ear for rhythm and beats? RJ Ekta might've been able to stump you with this one. She recently...
Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah twitter thread

Women, what would you tell your school age self?

  Ahead of International Women's Day on 8 March, Monash University's Dr Michelle Ananda-Rajah was asked to speak at a girl's school. The inspiring academic,...
women empowerment

WATCH: Hindi poem about women empowerment

  Ever have those days where nothing is going your way? You feel demotivated and wonder, "what's the point?". The last couple of weeks in Australia...
march 2021 shows and movies

Indian shows and movies to watch in March 2021

  Bombay Begums (Netflix) After the award-winning Lipstick Under My Burkha (2016), director Alankrita Shrivastava is back with another empowering series about women. Set in urban...

Japanese billionaire seeks eight artists for free Moon ride

  Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa has invited eight people to join him for a free ride to the Moon on a SpaceX Starship rocket sometime...