Changes to 18C – not ok in 2014, and not ok now

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Changes to the Racial Discrimination Act being proposed by Senator Cory Bernardi and others, are not warranted and would send the wrong message, according to Diversity Council Australia (DCA).

In response to a private member’s bill proposing to remove the words "insult" and "offend" from the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), DCA argues that an adequate case for changing the Act has still not been made.

“In 2014, we reviewed the Government’s proposed changes to the Act. We consulted with our membership, and our view then was that the current framework has worked well over a number of decades, strikes an appropriate balance between the rights of individuals to live free from racial discrimination and vilification and the need for free speech in the community, and is one that business is experienced in working with. Nothing has happened since then that would lead us to change our view,” said Lisa Annese, DCA’s CEO. 

“Business has an important role in promoting a cohesive multicultural society and workplaces through continued efforts to combat racism – a role that requires ongoing effort and attention from all levels of government, together with the corporate sector and the broader community. 

“DCA’s own research echoes other studies that show racism is still a problem in the workplace,” said Lisa.

DCA’s Working for the Future research found non-Australian born respondents were significantly more likely to report being discriminated against on the basis of cultural background (11% vs 2%) and racially harassed (14% vs 6%), and that racial harassment (9% incident in previous twelve months) was more common than sexual harassment (6%). Further, Indigenous Australians were up to six times more likely to experience inappropriate workplace behaviour than non-Indigenous Australians.

“Changing the RDA in the way currently being proposed would send a negative message about the type of behaviour that is now acceptable in the community, and this will inevitably have a flow on effect into the workplace,” said Lisa.  

Australian businesses understand the importance of a culturally diverse workforce and providing workplaces which are free from discrimination and vilification. 

“Employers recognise the benefits of pro-actively preventing workplace discrimination and harassment, and of creating culturally diverse and inclusive workplaces. 

“We hope that the proposed changes to the Act don’t succeed, otherwise they have the potential to jeopardise positive progress already underway,” added Lisa.

DCA consulted with its members in developing its submission in 2014.