On 25 March 2014 the Federal Attorney-General, Senator George
Brandis, announced that the Government proposed amending the Racial
Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) to repeal ss 18B, 18C, 18D and 18E,
and insert a new section. The Government's Freedom of Speech
(Repeal of s. 18C) Bill 2014 proposed that, in the name of
"freedom of speech", the current prohibition on
publically offending, insulting, humiliating or intimidating
"a person or group of people" on the basis of their
"race colour or national or ethic origin", be removed,
and replaced with a prohibition on vilification and
Senator Brandis has been a long-time vocal critic of s 18C.
Following the Federal Court's decision in Eatock v Bolt 
FCA 1103 Senator Brandis, writing in The Australian, commented
"Section 18C, as presently
worded, has no place in a society that values freedom of expression
and democratic governance. If the Bolt decision is not overturned
on appeal, the provision in its present form should be
The "Bolt case" involved a series of articles and blog
posts written by Andrew Bolt that implied, as Larissa Behrendt has
set out, that the "choice" of "a number of named
Aboriginal persons" to identify as Aboriginal "was
opportunistic and for the purpose of providing them with financial
and other benefits reserved for 'genuine' Aboriginal
persons who are darker, rather than fairer, skinned Aboriginal
Justice Bromberg found that Bolt's "public
comments" were "were unlawful" under s 18C and did
not fall within the Act's exemption of "conduct done
reasonably and in good faith in the pursuit of making fair
However, on 6 August Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that
the proposed changes to 18C had been taken "off the
table" for the sake of "national unity".
The proposed changes have generated much community criticism,
particularly from Indigenous Australians, with it being reported
that the Indigenous Liberal MP, Ken Wyatt, has threatened to cross
the floor if the proposed changes go ahead.
In response to the question "won't removing section 18C
facilitate vilification by bigots?", posed by Indigenous Labor
MP Nova Peris, Senator Brandis' replied "People do have
the right to be bigots, you know... In a free country, people do
have rights to say things that other people find offensive,
insulting or bigoted."
Craig Cromeline, Chairperson of the New South Wales Aboriginal
Land Council, has said that he finds it "astonishing that our
top law maker seeks to passionately defend the right of people to
be bigots than the rights of the most marginalised people in our
Kirstie Parker, Co-Chair of the Close the Gap Campaign Steering
Committee, also opposes the changes. She claims that a "recent
study from Victoria revealed that 97 per cent of participants had
experienced racism in the past 12 months."
Mick Gooda, also Campaign Co-Chair, argues that
"experiences of racism are associated with poor health
outcomes and health risk behaviours. Racism is linked to anxiety,
depression, poor mental health, psychological distress, suicide
risk, diabetes, smoking, alcohol and substance misuse and emotion
and behavioural difficulties." At a time when Indigenous life
expectancy is still well below the national average, the proposed
changes to the Act are particularly significant.
Following "an avalanche of submissions" it was
reported that Senator Brandis was considering "water[ing]
down" the proposed amendments to the Act.
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