The prolonged nature of the debate around potential changes to hate speech laws is “dangerous”, Heather Sculthorpe says.
The Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre chief executive said the ongoing discussion as to whether or not Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act should be amended was causing distress in indigenous communities.
“The more this sort of talk goes on, the more people on the street cop it, the more this sort of racist sentiment builds up around the country,” Ms Sculthorpe said.
She said TAC resented the federal government “using” indigenous Australia as a “political football”.
“Even if [Section 18C] hasn’t been used very much, the fact that it’s there as a protection is critical to giving the right message that racial hatred and racist speech is not to be tolerated,” Ms Sculthorpe said.
In accordance with section 18C of the RDA, it is unlawful for a person to publicly insult another person or group of people based on their race.
Conservative federal MPs have called for amendments to be made to these sections of the RDA for supposedly impeding the exercise of free speech.
On Tuesday, a parliamentary report on the Racial Discrimination Act was inconclusive in regards to whether or not there was a need for amendments to Section 18C.
Multicultural Council of Tasmania chief executive Anna Reynolds said she did not understand why amendments to 18C were being proposed in the first place.
“If it’s not broken, why muck around with it?” Ms Reynolds said.
She said migrant communities in Tasmania were “disappointed” that the 18C question kept reemerging.
Furthermore, Ms Reynolds said she had received reports of a spike in “negative experiences” within these migrant communities.
Migrant Resource Centre North chief executive Ella Dixon said Australia needed to ask itself what kind of society it wanted to be.
“Our racial vilification laws should remain,” Ms Dixon said.
“They have been in place for over two decades and send a strong message about racism being unacceptable in our society.”
While freedom of speech was a “fundamental value”, Ms Dixon said, so was freedom from racial discrimination.
“At the end of the day, laws cannot reform human nature, and, sadly, this is evident with the continued racism that exists in Australia,” she said.
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