Birth of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

September 15, 2018

On 15 September 1995, the Keating Government’s “Racial Hatred Bill 1995” – sponsored and shepherded through by then Labor Attorney General, Michael Lavarch – was given Royal Assent. Significantly, the Bill inserted now infamous section 18C into the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Section 18C makes it an offence to 'offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate' someone on the basis of their race - highly subjective criteria. 18C weaponised the original Whitlam Labor 1975 Act that had laid comparatively dormant for the two decades. In the 2010s, however, it was deployed with devastating and highly public effect to stifle free speech (read more details below).

Labor’s shadow Attorney General, Mark Dreyfus, wants to expand the reach of 18C to weaponise other federal discrimination laws, consolidating all forms of victimhood under the tests of “offend” and “insult” – a very low bar indeed.

For a free, democratic, tolerant but robust country, 18C stifles and silences free speech. It is increasingly used and abused by professional complainers, offence-takers and activists. Prominent Australians from all sides of politics have acknowledged the section goes too far. Senator Bernardi has a private member's bill before Parliament to remove 'offend' and 'insult' from 18C, and moved in a 2017 debate to further restrict the reach of the section - but was shut down by Labor and leftist crossbenchers.

From Opposition into office, former Liberal Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis had made a clear commitment to repeal 18C, but Mr Abbott made a captain's call to dump the commitment. Prominent 18C target and Herald Sun columnist & broadcaster Andrew Bolt was one of the first to be told about the Coalition's cowardly about-face. 

The Conservative Party's act of picking up the abandoned 18C repeal standard and march on for free speech is but one of many instances we had to do so.

Mark this day that our speech and discrimination laws were weaponised, ready to be deployed against conservatives in the hands of activist commissioners, by:

  • add your name to Cory Bernardi's online free speech petition to reform section 18C
  • brushing up on the Andrew Bolt 18C case 
  • reading this Quadrant Magazine commentary on the Bill Leak 18C case
  • going through this analysis of the QUT students’ section 18C case
  • seeing this IPA commentary and submission to a Parliamentary Committee on section 18C
  • hoping that the current vacancy in the Race Commissioner’s chair remains so, and/or
  • sharing this Action Plan post on social media with family, friends, conservatives, classical liberals, libertarians and those that value their right to speak openly and frankly on difficult topics that need to be discussed.

More information on the dangers of 18C

18C kept a low profile for the next 15 years – most cases going largely unreported and being settled out of court, albeit with the lawfare, significant cost and distress to those accused. In the new millennium they have become prominent on the legal and political landscape since:

  • the 2011 “Eatock versus Bolt” case (aka “the Bolt case”), where even then prominent Labor trade unionist, Paul Howes, saw the law and its interpretation as having “Orwellian” overtones
  • the 2013-2016 “Prior versus Queensland University of Technology” case (aka “the QUT students case”)
  • the Bill Leak case (where the AHRC’s then Race Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane, solicited for complaints about a cartoon, beginning a lawfare process that coincided with the deterioration of Leak's health and passing)
  • the recent Sonia Kruger case - wherein she is accused of insulting the 'race' of being a Muslim (a ridiculous proposition, as Cory Bernardi said recently - see the video below - given 'Muslim' is a religious belief, not at race), and
  • the politicisation of the AHRC, particularly its leadership and Race Commissioner (Commissar?), holdovers and parting appointments by the “community-organising” Gillard-Green Labor government.



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