A Nielsen poll published in Fairfax newspapers last week found that 88 per cent of respondents believe it should be against the law to offend, insult or humiliate someone based on race.
The Abbott government wants to create a new protection against vilification, but repeal section 18c of the Race Discrimination Act, which makes it unlawful to offend, insult and humiliate a person on the grounds of race, colour or ethnicity.
As the poll was published, the architect of the act in question – former PM Paul Keating – accused the government of taking a leaf out of John Howard’s book, when the Liberal leader in opposition said Mr Keating had “propagated political corrrectness”.
Mr Keating said that the Coalition government’s plans to repeal provisions in the act would give Australians the “right to confront people in respect of their race or colour”, and give a green light to discrimination.
“We are a nation of immigrants in the East Asian hemisphere, yet the government sees profit in the country regressing to a standard of discourse more in keeping with the mores which we obtained a century ago,” he said.
“Is it any wonder the public rejects the idea of concessions to primitive discrimination? And so they should.”
More than 200 multicultural and ethnic communities across Australia have expressed their concern to the Australian Human Rights Commission about the proposed changes.
Attorney-General George Brandis announce the proposed changes after he told Parliament last month that people “have a right to be bigots”. Public consultation on the reforms remains open until April 30.
In its submission to the government, the Community Relations Commission of NSW has called on the Attorney-General to withdraw the freedom of speech reforms.
Commission Chairman Vic Alhadeff said a public enquiry should be undertaken as comprehensive as the inquiries that led to the introduction 20 years ago of the 18c section of the act by the Keating government.
“The process which led to the exposure draft was completely inadequate. It consisted of limited private consultations behind closed doors, and the final product doesn’t come close to reflecting the concerns expressed by many community groups about the need to maintain existing protections against racism,” Mr Alhadeff told reporters.
With some 25 per cent of people in NSW born overseas, and another 25 per cent with at least one parent born abroad, the CRC says it has heard from a large number of ethnic communities who are opposed to the draft reforms.
Neos Kosmos understands the Greek Orthodox Community of Melbourne and Victoria will make its submission to the government this week.