Submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights regarding the operation of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) including sections 18C and 18D

Summary of the Atheist Foundation of Australia’s position:

1. Whether the operation of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (including sections 18C and 18D) impose unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speech

There are some religious groups who are seeking to be included in Section 18C (1) (b); religion should be considered to be equal to philosophies, ideals and doctrines and should not be protected in the same way not the same as people of race, national or ethnic origin are protected. The latter have definite characteristics whereas religion is a choice. There need to be opportunities for investigation of religious beliefs, open for respectful debate, comment and discussion. In saying that, Australians do have the choice to be a part of (or not at all) many different and various religions, and should continue to have the right to do.

While there is a need for legal recourse to speech that intends harm on racial grounds, the wording of 18C does limit the opportunity for vigorous debate.

Racism should not be tolerated and the law should adequately reflect this. In saying this, we are also aware of other minority groups who may be undermined by the proposed changes to Section 18C; the Atheist Foundation of Australia cannot endorse the changes in light of their criticisms.

2. Whether the complaints-handling procedures of the Australian Human Rights Commission should be reformed

In all cases where there are complaints, there should be regular revision of the procedures to allow for checks and balances. The rights of people to make complaints should indeed be encouraged and the procedure made transparent as possible. This may be of use when it comes to vexatious complaints that would otherwise hinder justice being served, and allow for better applications in cases where there are legitimate complaints.

Yours Sincerely,

Kylie Sturgess
Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc
PO Box 3582
Parramatta NSW 2514