Leaders address 18C committee
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Leaders address 18C committee

Two communal organisations presented cases for the retention of existing anti-racism legislation when they spoke to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights last week.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim.

TWO communal organisations presented cases for the retention of existing anti-racism legislation when they spoke to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights last week.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry executive director Peter Wertheim and the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council’s (AIJAC) Dr Colin Rubinstein and Jeremy Jones argued that the weakening of protections would be dangerous.

Wertheim told the committee that racially motivated violence often begins with racist words.

He explained that the Australian Jewish community has the highest proportion, in percentage terms, of Holocaust survivors in the world, and that when anti-Semitism appears it has an enormous effect on survivors and their descendants.

He also expressed disappointment that the debate over Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act – which states that it is an offence to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person based on race, colour or national or ethnic origin – is once again on the political agenda.

Wertheim said that the only benefit of a national political discussion on Section 18C is that the community has become more aware of the laws and, he claims, how reasonable and moderate they are.

During the hearing Jones detailed the five cases under Section 18C in which he had direct personal involvement, and highlighted the failure of other regulations, including state-based legislation, to provide effective deterrence against people determined to spread malice against Jews.

Jones told The AJN that AIJAC had a full hour with the committee, which he said was unusual.

“They really delved deeply into my experiences of dealing with anti-Semitism in my time before the law was introduced and now that the law is in,” Jones said.

“They also asked my assessment of what would happen if the law was abolished.

“I explained that before 18C you couldn’t claim your cornflakes had a better effect on your body than your competitors, but you could claim that, for instance, all Jews were pornographers without any evidence or -consequences.”

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights was established by the Human Rights Act in 2011 to examine all bills and legislative instruments for compatibility with human rights, and to report to both Houses of Parliament on its findings.

AJN STAFF

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