While the proposed Federal amendments would more closely align the definition of vilification at the Commonwealth level with the ACT definition, the very broad exceptions would render many alleged acts of racial vilification lawful. Vilification involving incitement to violence also remains a criminal offence at the ACT level, as it is not covered by Federal law, but there have been no successful prosecutions in the ACT.
In my view, current Federal racial hatred provisions have a legitimate and proportionate limitation of freedom of expression in order to protect the rights of all people to equality, including racial minorities, and should be enacted in the ACT. We must never underestimate the profound damage that racism, and racial hatred causes to individuals and society. Self-stigma can result from the experience of racial hatred, where a victim can internally absorb untrue stereotypes, and therefore diminish his or her quality of life and ability to fully participate in society. (Malcolm et al, ‘HIV-related Stigmatisation and Discrimination: its Forms and Contexts’ (1998) 8 Critical Public Health 347, 350.) The United Nations was founded on the basis that security and peace are intertwined with human rights protection. I hope that current public debate in Australia on the issue of racism strengthens, rather than erodes, the human rights of vulnerable people. It would be extraordinary if discrimination law was weaker than sporting codes banning racist sledging.
Dr Helen Watchirs OAM
ACT Human Rights & Discrimination Commissioner
7 May 2014