Support for Senator Day’s bill strengthens

There is momentum building among coalition back-benchers to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Since Senator Day proposed the bill in September, it languished in the Senate, with only the express support of co-sponsors Senators Dean Smith, Cory Bernardi of the Liberal Party, and Senator David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party. However, since the new year, and in response to the terror attacks in Paris, France, support of freedom of speech generally, and amending section 18C in particular, have become more pronounced.

In The Australian, Christian Kerr summarises this sentiment presently among Coalition backbenchers, quoting Senator Bernardi who believes that it would be “hard to find more than half a dozen people in our partyroom who don’t believe it is a reasonable measure.”

In particular, Senator Sean Edwards, a Liberal from South Australia, commented that “anything that enhances freedom of speech – which has clearly got some traction around the world now in democracies – should be supported. He similarly gave this forthright defence of freedom of speech in The Advertiser.

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Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act would apply to religious based complaints

Professor David Flint, writing in The Spectator, has provided an excellent commentary on the applicability of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) to religious based complaints.

In his analysis, Professor Flint dispenses with the notion, common among defenders of section 18C, that the provision only applies where offensive conduct is directed to a particular racial group.

While the wording of section 18C provides that an act must be “done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person”, much commentary ignores the role ‘extrinsic material’ plays in courts interpreting a statute. In particular, the use of the explanatory memorandum for the bill which introduced section 18C, the Racial Hatred Act 1995 (Cth), to ascertain the meaning of the words ‘ethnic origin’ and ‘race’. As Professor Flint explains;

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