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Community leaders gather in Canberra for 18C talks

George Vellis, coordinator of the Australian Hellenic Council, was present, representing the Greek Australian community

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Community representatives in Canberra.

05 December 2016

Community representatives gathered in Canberra on Monday in a bid to urge parliamentarians not to weaken Australia's laws against racial vilification.

The campaign is in response to the federal government's recent announcement to conduct an inquiry into 'freedom of speech', with a review of the Racial Discrimination Act, namely 18D and 18C, the latter of which makes it unlawful to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" a person or group based on their race.

Representatives from the Indigenous, Jewish, Vietnamese, Chinese, Arab and Indian communities were present, including coordinator of the Australian Hellenic Council George Vellis, who was feeling positive following the meeting.

"The response was fantastic and we have a lot of support from the major parties," Mr Vellis told Neos Kosmos.

The leaders set out to convey community concerns about the impact that the changes to the law would have on social cohesion and on ethnic minorities to be able to freely participate in society without fear of being harassed and abused based on their race.

"This issue is not really just about freedom of speech, despite the terms of reference of the Parliamentary Joint Committee. The right to live free from racial vilification goes to the very heart of Australian multiculturalism, tolerance and democracy," Mr Vellis said.

The Racial Discrimination Act has been in existence since 1995 and operated with little controversy until 2011, when columnist Andrew Bolt came under fire for the publication of two articles that mocked and disparaged 'fair-skinned' Aborigines on the basis of their race. He was found by a court to have contravened section 18C.

To ensure the laws are not changed, Mr Vellis says concerned members of the community need to step up and make their voices heard.

"The next move is to get as many submissions brought forward [and] to get as many Greek organisations to submit a letter in response to the racial discrimination by supporting a no change to the current laws by 9 December," Mr Vellis said.

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