Vice Presidents’ Report – Week 4, Sem 2, 2017

James Gibson and Iman Farrar

The University of Sydney SRC Vice Presidents condemn the proposed changes to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) proposed by the Australian Government, and believe that removing the terms, “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” with the ambiguous term, “harass”, is highly problematic to Australian multiculturalism and a fundamental step backwards. Many of us are opinionated – and opinions, whilst sometimes controversial are respected. However, for one to act in a way which directly offends, insults or humiliates another based on “race, colour or national or ethnic origin” is a breach of the responsibility that comes with the (implied) right of freedom of speech in Australia, it is a breach when “freedom of speech” becomes “hate speech”. Section 18C as it stands provides a framework that helps draw the line between the two, and whilst it does fall short in some areas, it is inherently aimed at protecting the most vulnerable in our society. The Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Gillian Triggs, expressed she was “especially concerned” with the removal of the term “humiliate”, and that the draft proposal in itself was a “highly unsatisfactory… circular process”, particularly in its proposal alongside a rhetoric of fear and the perpetuation of the ‘topical other’. As far as the university culture and environment goes, we will not stand for the justification of empty hatred amongst students, and the SRC would thus like to remind students of the free legal and casework support services available to them. Furthermore, as Vice Presidents of the University of Sydney SRC, we will be attending Walk for Respect on the 31 March @5:30pm at the Corner of Gillies St and Haldon St, Lakemba, speaking in favour of ensuring that these changes to Section 18C will not proceed through Parliament and so encourage anyone interested to come and show your support.