Fuzzy thinking on racial discrimination law

The British leftist current affairs magazine New Statesman recently published a piece on Australia’s Opposition Leader Tony Abbott and his speech at the IPA’s recent 70th Anniversary Dinner.

The article noted that Abbott had used the speech to reaffirm the Coalition’s promise to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. The provision makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone on the basis of their race and is a serious impediment to free speech. The author goes on to make this extraordinary claim:

If Section 18C is repealed, racial hatred will effectively be sanctioned by law.

This is either disingenuous or daft. The idea that the state approves of a particular behaviour if there is no law against it is a classic non sequitur. Surely the author doesn’t mean to imply that the absence of laws against adultery means that the state ‘sanctions’ philandery?

Repealing s 18C has nothing to do with the sanctioning speech of any kind. It’s about free speech. This provision creates a legal right not to be offended – an entitlement that is unacceptable in a liberal democracy like ours. Indeed, Australians should be free to speak without fear of being taken to court over mere words.

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