Community groups reject Brandis race hate reform

“I am in the process at the moment of going through those many submissions … [they] reflect a variety of views across the Australian community on what is an important and difficult issue”: Senator George Brandis. Photo: Wolter PeetersAn overwhelming majority of ethnic and community groups oppose the Abbott government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

As pressure builds on Attorney-General George Brandis to justify his crusade to throw out the so-called ”‘Bolt law”’ by watering down protections against racial vilification, an analysis of public submissions to the review of his draft bill reveals at least 60 groups have lined up against the changes.

They include the Law Council of Australia, the Arab Council of Australia, the Chinese Australian Forum, the ACTU, the Lebanese Muslim Association and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry.

A number of groups representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders oppose it and on Wednesday, the head of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, Warren Mundine, warned that the debate over race hate laws could derail the push for constitutional recognition of indigenous Australians.

Just four submissions made public so far support the idea of repealing Section 18C and D of the act.

One of those is the the Adelaide Institute, established by Holocaust denier Fredrick Toben.

Fairfax Media revealed Mr Toben has strongly backed the Abbott government’s plans in a personal submission that welcomed the proposal as a challenge to ”Jewish supremacism” in Australia. He described the current act as a ”flawed law, which only benefits Jewish-Zionist-Israeli interests” and effectively a ”Holocaust protection law”.

Senator Brandis this week told Parliament that he had received ”some thousands” of submissions but declined to answer a question from the opposition whether a single major community group had backed changes.

”I am in the process at the moment of going through those many submissions … [they] reflect a variety of views across the Australian community on what is an important and difficult issue,” he said.

Following the end of the consultation period, a bill will be drafted and put before cabinet ”‘within weeks”’, according to Senator Brandis’ office – but submissions received will not be made public to justify pushing ahead against the groups opposed.

Labor senator Lisa Singh said Senator Brandis must explain why he is keeping submissions secret. ”We have to assume he is refusing to make them public because the only people supporting him are right-wing extremists such as Fredrick Toben and the Adelaide Institute,” she said.

Mr Mundine said the debate over race hate laws had ”put a log on the track that can derail the process” of constitutional recognition for indigenous Australians.

”I think they really need to get it off the agenda,” he said.

Mr Mundine stressed that his views on plans to repeal section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act were his own and not the council’s. ”I know it was a promise of the government before the election, but I think it has dragged energy away from the government,” he said.

”My personal opinion is that I can’t see any reform in this area getting up and it needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.”

In its submission, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said the Racial Discrimination Act was a ”‘keystone for reconciliation in Australia between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and the settler state”.

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