Student Voice: Changing The Act



The Abbott government has provided proposals to change the Racial Discrimination Act Section 18C(s.18C). Does this mean people can get away with racist slurs, harassment, and derogatory language? We understand the concept of free speech, but is this too much?


WORDS | Sam Bradshaw

No one wants people to be racist, right? Obviously the government should stop these people. And surely any such commentary wouldn’t add much to the public debate anyway? Have you ever heard someone say something racist? Maybe that crazy uncle or another uni student who told that joke? Australians have long had a reputation for being far more casually racist than most countries, despite laws that are supposed to prevent it.

So, who has to fear the dreaded Racial Discrimination Act? Journalists do. Will Australia’s newspapers start vilifying people because we repeal this law? Probably not. The unfortunate side effect is that they can’t discuss, for example, a program for Indigenous people that isn’t meeting its objectives. They refuse to discuss Indigenous public policy even when it’s failing, because if they say anything about it they might offend someone, and breaching s.18C would be too disastrous to their business. This is the freedom of speech issue – we’re not having a debate about an important public policy issue because of this law.

And what about that one broadcaster who just insists on being racist? No one enjoys it, but there is a benefit – any time a public figure says something offensive, the country rises up to refute them. This has always been a more effective way of changing minds than an Act of Parliament. Racism festers because people can be racist with impunity. We can’t challenge them publicly if it happens underground.

Write a law that actually tackles racism and I’ll stand behind it; but s.18C doesn’t. It fails so egregiously while stifling debate on issues that we desperately need to talk about.

Sam Bradshaw is the former President of the Macquarie University Liberal Club and is basically Ron Paul with better hair.



WORDS | Lachlan Woods

The Abbott government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act represent an abject failure to understand how racism affects people in the real world.

Racism is not just rude jokes at the pub, it’s a collection of systematic disadvantages that cripple the ability of people to live free and prosperous lives. Everyone from anthropologists to psychologists have repeatedly linked racial vilification with racially motivated violence. The repeal of s.18C should not occur because it not only protects people against racial harassment, but also has minimised social disharmony for many years.

Yet the proponent of these changes, Attorney-General George Brandis, wants to excise these safeguards based on his misunderstanding of how free of speech works. People cannot be free in a society that permits racism, they cannot be free to speak their mind, they cannot be free from harassment because of their race, and they cannot be free to participate equally in public discourse. Nothing kills freedom of speech more than the capacity for unabated prejudice in public discourse. This is not about enhancing freedom, this is about restricting it to those already in positions of privilege. Particularly given to those who the changes are intended for.

It’s transparent that the amendments are in response to conservative commentator, Andrew Bolt, after being reprimanded for soap boxing from beyond the realms of human decency. Not to mention the factual inaccuracies, with his comments about people of Aboriginal decent in 2009. Racism is a real thing that affects real people. Therefore, to prevent Andrew Bolt from playing amateur anthropologist is a small price to pay so that we maintain social cohesion in a free society.

Lachlan Woods is a member of the executive of the Macquarie University Greens and no, he doesn’t hail Lenin… comrade!