Liberal senator Dean Smith welcomes judge’s opinion that 18C not ‘fit for purpose’

Liberal senator Dean Smith welcomes judge’s opinion that 18C not ‘fit for purpose’

By Gabrielle Chan

The Liberal senator Dean Smith says the Coalition party room view has moved on reform of the Racial Discrimination Act after a former federal judge suggested amendments to create a more “defensible balance” between free speech and hate speech.

The RDA makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” on the grounds of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”. But section 18D provides exemptions for “any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest”.

Sackville says while there are “powerful policy reasons” for keeping hate speech laws, amendments could create a “more defensible balance between the legitimate protection of vulnerable groups from serious hate speech and the values of free speech”.

“An objective test would involve reference to the standards of a reasonable member of the community at large,” he said.

“In practice, as in so many areas of the law, this would involve courts exercising judgment in the light of their assessment of prevailing community standards, taking account of the evidence adduced in the individual case.”

The Liberal senator James Paterson joined Bernardi to argue the case for change. Asked why it was necessary to give people the legal right to insult or offend people on the basis of race, Paterson said a number of court cases – including the case relating to Andrew Bolt – showed free expression was curtailed by 18C.

“In some ways a more troubling case … is a case currently before the courts from the Queensland University of Technology where some students essentially engaged in a bit of letting off steam on social media and we have now had up to a three year process of investigation,” Paterson told Sky.

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