#SavetheRDA: Outlaw hate speech, protect whistleblowers — Amnesty

  • Posted on: 23 January 2017
  • By: Staff Writers

Over forty Australian civil society organisations have warned that hate speech could go unpunished under proposed Freedom of Speech legislation, amidst concerns that journalists and whistle-blowers may face prison terms for reporting on sensitive national security issues.

In its submission to the Senate inquiry into Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Amnesty International called for Parliament to legislate an explicit prohibition of hate speech, in order for Australia to uphold its obligations under international law.

Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Australia signed in 1980, requires states to ban national, racial or religious hate speech which incites discrimination, hostility or violence. In their submission, Amnesty expressed concerns that the Racial Discrimination Act did not provide an explicit Federal ban on racial vilification and incitement to hatred.

UNESCO Chair in Interreligious and Intercultural Relations Prof Gary Bouma said any watering down or perceived dilution of the Racial Discrimination Act may encourage hate speech.

He said: “Civility is key to society and civilization, and mutual respect is key to civility. No robust discussion requires the denigration and dehumanisation of the other.”

The Guardian reported that a number of major NGOs supported retainin Section 18C, including the Refugee Council, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Reconciliation Australia, the Australian Lawyers’ Alliance, the Arab Council of Australia, and the Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia.

A compromise position, such as replacing the terms “offend” and “insult” with “vilify”, was supported by the Australian Industry Group, the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law at Monash University, the Journalists’ Union (MEAA), amongst others. Some organisations supported the repeal of Section 18C, including the Institute of Policy Affairs.

Chief Executive of the Online Hate Prevention Institute Dr Andre Oboler said that any signal indicating bigotry was acceptable could lead to wider societal problems.

He said: “Mental and emotional harm can cause physical harm through substance abuse, self-harm and potentially suicide: these outcomes also need to be avoided. This has serious implications for the individual and the community.”

National security laws have “chilling effect” on whistleblowers and journalists

Amnesty International expressed further concern that national security laws would likely silence whistle-blowers and pressure journalists to avoid reporting on stories involving the intelligence community.

“A number of Australia’s national security laws unduly interfere with freedom of expression,” Amnesty wrote in their submission. “[National security legislation] has had a chilling effect on the disclosure of information about Australia’s offshore processing arrangements. [The Border Force Act] has resulted in whistle-blowers being scared to come forward.”

In their submission to the Senate inquiry, the Journalists’ Union said that under the ASIO Act, journalists risked 10 years’ imprisonment for reporting on stories relating to the intelligence community. The submission also mentioned concerns that suppression orders and court orders for alleged defamation and contempt of court could be used to prevent reporting on matters in the public interest.

Amnesty also noted that freedom of expression was under threat from mass government surveillance and increased penalties against protesters. In regards to surveillance, the report cited Federal legislation from 2014, which requires telephone and Internet metadata to be stored for two years, and forces telephone companies to provide the information to law enforcement agencies without a warrant. The report also noted that state legislation in NSW would lead to large fines for protests at mining and fracking sites, while governments in Tasmania and Western Australia were legislating to outlaw a broader range of protest actions.

Clergy call for religious hate speech ban

The Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD) has been alerted of concerns that religious hate speech is not covered under the Racial Discrimination Act. In a submission to the Senate inquiry, many major religious organisations in Victoria have called for religious hate speech provisions to be incorporated into the Act. Sponsoring organisations included the Buddhist Council, Council of Churches, Hindu Council, Islamic Council and Board of Imams, the Jewish Community and Rabbinical council, Pax Christi, the Sikh Interfaith Council and the Wesley Mission.

CICD continues to support the efforts of these NGOs to lobby Parliament for protection against hate speech of all kinds.