Nick Cater has delved into the original debate surrounding the introduction Australia’s racial vilification laws. His piece in today’s Australian highlights some unexpected sceptics of some aspects of the Racial Hatred Bill 1995, which included section 18C:
The Keating government was expressly warned by the then Human Rights and Equal Opportunity commissioner, Irene Moss, not to legislate against the causing of offence.
In her influential 1991 report on HREOC’s National Inquiry on Racist Violence, Moss advised against following the model adopted in New Zealand where section 9C of the Race Relations Act had been “widely used and even abused by individuals complaining of insults or remarks of a relatively trivial nature”.
Acts of racial violence should be treated as “distinctive, serious criminal offences” under the Crimes Act. Civil remedies under the Racial Discrimination Act should be restricted to “the incitement of racial hostility”.
“The inquiry is not talking about protecting hurt feelings or injured sensibilities,” wrote Moss.
“The threshold for prohibited conduct needs to be higher than expressions of mere ill will.”
As it turned out, the proposed amendments to the Crimes Act were a step too far even for the Greens, who sided with the Coalition to block them in the Senate.
“It will create a crime of words,” the Greens’ Christabel Chamarette told the Senate.
“This will take the legislation across a certain threshold into the realm of thought police.”
Was this the last time the Greens stood up for free speech?