a multicultural Research Library

Making multicultural Australia

Search the complete site: ... Sitemap » ... Links to other sites »

multicultural Audio »

Category: Audio Interviews »

Subject: Cultural Studies »


Race Hatred Legislation

Irene Moss.

Irene Moss, First race Discrimination Commissioner, talks about free speech and to balance it against the right of minority groups etc.



Date Added:

19 July 2002


Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1996.


mov (Quicktime);

File size:



36 secs


First Race Discrimination Commissioner, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and Chair, National Inquiry into Racist Violence

I do believe personally that there should be the ability to debate legitimately issues that need to be debated. And I think that free speech is a very important principle. But you've got to balance that against the right of minority groups to be protected from racial harassment, racial vilification, and possibly, that leading to racist violence. So when you balance those two very important principles, I think that the compassionate, humane society will always come out in support of racial vilification legislation.


When we conducted the National Inquiry into Racist Violence - and we are talking about 5 - 7 years ago, when I first worked as the Race Discrimination Commissioner - people were actually saying, "we think that racist harassment and racist violence is on the rise". And it was very interesting at that time, because that... was just after the Blainey debate... and with a continuing immigration policy which was allowing more visibly different Australians to come to Australia, and refugees. We had an increasingly Asian immigration intake. It was a time just after the Gulf War. It was a time when a lot of Indigenous Australians were saying they were having a lot of problems with the police and with generally established institutional structures. People were saying that things were not as right as they should be.

I'm not saying that they are at the moment - there is still a long way to go. We needed to come to grips with what was happening. We wanted to draw a map of what was the picture of racist violence in Australia. We wanted to take stock. That is why we conducted that major inquiry.

We found that the most harassed group, on the basis of race in Australia, was the Indigenous population. And we found that racism was still endemic with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. We found that there were pockets of racism, particularly with people who were visibly different, so that they experienced greater harassment in their daily lives than other groups.

One of the major recommendations of that Report was racial vilification legislation. And that issue has been well and truly put on the agenda.

The thing is, it was important that that was raised - the importance of having legislation there. It was important to have Australians generally better understand what racism was, to confront it and to find out how we are, as a nation, on these issues.

I think that the reason why it has taken this long, is that the freedom of speech issue has always been a key worry with many groups. Many of those groups are quite legitimate in their fight against racism, like the Council of Civil Liberties, some of whom actually expressed concern that having legislation like this was the thin end of the wedge on freedom of expression and free speech. Some civil liberties groups were not concerned about it and were quite happy to come out in support. But I think that was the key concern, and of course, when you come to discussing free speech issues, the media lobby is very, very strong, and you will find that most media groups were against having that sort of legislation. But I don't think one needs to really fear it. The thing is, from looking at the various drafts of racial vilification legislation, there is a great concern about maintaining legitimate free speech.

Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1996.