In this unrepentant climate, the Institute of Public Affairs’ submission calling for the repeal of 18C is welcome. It argues the law smothers free speech and is anti-democratic because it limits the airing of ideas. It contends the provision is self-defeating because freedom of expression makes society more cohesive and it mounts the case that the extent of the law — particularly the words offend and insult — put it beyond what is required by UN treaties, making it unconstitutional. Yet the more obvious criticisms probably carry more weight. Under this law the process has become the punishment, so justice can be denied at the outset. Also, to the extent speech does cause harm (such as inciting violence or damaging reputations) it is covered by other laws, making 18C redundant. If the law aims to defeat racism, it cannot — no law can dictate how people think. The best way to combat racist attitudes must be through open dialogue and the organic adoption of community standards.
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