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Subject: Cultural Studies »


Race Hatred legislation

Zita Antonios.

Zita Antonios, Race Discrimination Commisioner, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, discusses the Racial vilification - Racial hatred legislation.



Date Added:

27 June 2002


Making Multicultural Australia


mov (Quicktime);

File size:



28 secs


Race Discrimination Commissioner, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission

Racial vilification - or the term thatís being preferred by the Government in passing its recent legislation is racial hatred - and itís about the public vilification, or the public defamation, of a person or a group of people, a class of people, in a way that humiliates, or offends, insults, intimidates the person, simply on the basis of their race or ethnicity, or indeed their nationality.


There have been three major government inquiries now that have recommended very strongly that racial hatred amendments be made in various ways, to the Racial Discrimination Act, and to the Federal Crimes Act to cover serious crimes of racial hatred that involve violence, or threats of violence. I think that is a point that is very important to emphasise.
In talking about racial hatred, we are not always talking about name-calling or simple abuse. We are talking, a lot of the time, about very serious criminal offences for which at present we have no explicit coverage.
The Multiculturalism and the Law Report, by the Australian Law Reform Commission, a massive report, called for laws to be introduced on racial hatred. The National Inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody called for these amendments. And of course my predecessor, Irene Moss, who chaired the National Inquiry into Racist Violence in this country, made a strong recommendation that these amendments be made. So that while there are a number of ethnic groups and lobby groups and Indigenous groups who are in support of this change, it is not simply something that is a political issue. Objective, detailed, analytical research has been done, and three times now the call has been made.
There has been a real gap in the Racial Discrimination Act coverage over the past 20 years. The original Race Discrimination Bill that was put to Parliament in 1975 contained a provision for racial hatred. Now there were a number of reasons for that. One of the major reasons was that Australia had signed the International Convention to Eliminate all Forms of Racial Discrimination at the United Nations.
And as a signatory to that Convention, we made an undertaking that we would legislate domestically to ensure that racial hatred wouldn't occur in this country.
When the Racial Discrimination Bill was originally proposed, it was vehemently argued against by the Opposition at the time in 1975, on the grounds that it would encroach freedom of speech. Recently, the debates in Parliament have been almost word for word those debates which occurred twenty years ago, and it makes one wonder sometimes just how far we have progressed when you see that extent, or lack of change.
But that is not the only reason we need this legislation, it wasn't just because we signed a United Nations instrument. We need this legislation because there is no national, Federal legislation in this country which makes it unlawful for people to racially vilify a person or a group of people.
The media has been universally opposed to this legislation, and it has been a long time, I think, since I have been aware of any public issue which the media has been so vehemently hostile towards. Primarily that is because they are likely to be the respondents in these matters, so there is to some extent some self-interest. I don't label all those commentators with that, but I do think that it is an element. I think, however, there is a fundamental misunderstanding within the media and elsewhere about what racial hatred will uncover and what it is about. It is not about stopping comedians from their comedy routines, for example - it is about serious forms of racial hatred.

Interview for Making Multicultural Australia, 1995.