find the latest legal job
Corporate Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Highly-respected, innovative and entrepreneurial Not-for-Profit · Competency based Board
View details
Chief Counsel and Company Secretary
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: Newcastle, Maitland & Hunter NSW
· Dynamic, high growth organisation · ASX listed market leader
View details
In-house Projects Lawyer | Renewables / Solar | 2-5 Years PQE
Category: Generalists - In House | Location: All Australia
· Help design the future · NASDAQ Listed
View details
Property lawyer - Melbourne
Category: Property Law | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Impressive client list, national firm · Well-led and high-performing team
View details
Senior family lawyer - Melbourne
Category: Family Law | Location: Melbourne CBD & Inner Suburbs Melbourne VIC
· Outstanding national firm · High-calibre family law team
View details
Commissioner rebukes media claims on race hate complaints

Commissioner rebukes media claims on race hate complaints

Dr Tim Soutphommasane has rejected some reports in the media, which claim the Race Discrimination Commissioner has been urging people to lodge complaints under Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act.

The media furore over Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act recently dragged Dr Tim Soutphommasane (pictured) into its narrative, moving him to respond to the suggestion that he had in some way solicited complaints.

The news reports in question took a dim view of the commissioner’s response to a cartoon drawn by the late Bill Leak, depicting an Aboriginal father who did not know the name of his own child.

At the time that the cartoon was published last August, the commissioner shared a link to an article from one of News Corps’ competitors on Twitter, saying “Our society shouldn’t endorse racial stereotypes of Aboriginal Australians — or, for that matter, of any other group.”

According to News Corp papers, The Australian and The DailyTelegraph, Dr Soutphommasane later gave advice to the public about how to make a complaint to the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) if they felt they were subjected to the conduct contravening Section 18C of the Act.

Taking aim at both papers, Dr Soutphommasane said he rejected any suggestion that he acted to urge or encourage complaints and he played no role in the investigation or conciliation of complaints as Race Discrimination Commissioner.

He added that the promotion of understanding and acceptance of the Act was in fact part of his mandate as Race Discrimination Commissioner.

“It is my function, as stated in the Racial Discrimination Act, to promote public understanding and acceptance of the Act,” Dr Soutphommasane said.

“This includes informing people about their right to lodge a complaint if they believe they have experienced racial hatred. It is wrong to suggest that giving this information amounts to soliciting complaints,” he said.

Between 2015 and 2016, a total of 77 racial vilification complaints were made to the AHRC under Section 18C of the Act. Of those complaints, 12 per cent of complaints were withdrawn, 52 per cent were resolved at conciliation, and one proceeded to court, the statement said.

The commissioner said his public comments about the Act have been consistent and that he has always made a point of highlighting both sections 18C and 18D together. Both sections of the Act deal with racial vilification.

Dr Soutphommasane clarified that it was the view of the AHRC that the courts have adopted a balanced interpretation of both sections 18C and 18D.

“The courts have held that the standard to be met for Section 18C to be contravened is conduct that has ‘profound and serious effects’, which are ‘not be likened to mere slights’,” the commissioner said.

“The test for whether an act breaches Section 18C is also an objective one. The provision refers to an act that is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the grounds of race.

“The fact that someone feels they have been racially offended, insulted, intimidated or humiliated does not necessarily mean the legal standard has been met,” he said.

Dr Soutphommasane said the AHRC was committed to engaging with any legislative reforms that can further improve the complaint handling process. Access to justice was also an important focus for the commission.

The commissioner’s statement provided the following explanation of both sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act:

Section 18C of the Act makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race or ethnicity.

Exemptions under Section 18D of the Act ensure that artistic works, scientific and academic inquiry, and fair comment on matters of public interest are exempt from Section 18C, provided they are done reasonably and in good faith.

As Professor Luke McNamara from the University of New South Wales points out in a piece written for the Conversation, the AHRC has a neutral role to play in the legislative regime.

"The Human Rights Commission is a neutral facilitator, not an enforcer. And, wherever possible, the aim is to resolve things via conciliation,” Professor McNamara said.

The legal academic argues that it would be wrong to regard Section 18C as capable of being a lone-fix for the problem of racism in Australia.

“It would be wrong to see it as a magical panacea. But it is equally wrong – and unsupported by the available evidence – to regard 18C as a threat to Australia’s liberal democracy," he said.  

Liberal senator Cory Bernardi this week announced plans to introduce a private member’s bill to curtail 18C.


Like this story? Read more:

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

The legal budget breakdown 2017

Commissioner rebukes media claims on race hate complaints
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Warning
Aug 23 2017
NT Law Society sounds alarm on mandatory sentencing
The Law Society Northern Territory has issued a warning over mandatory sentencing, saying it hasn’...
Unite
Aug 22 2017
Professionals unite in support of marriage equality
The presidents of representative bodies for solicitors, barristers and doctors in NSW have come toge...
Aug 21 2017
Is your firm on the right track for gig economy gains?
Promoted by Crowd & Co. The way we do business, where we work, how we engage with workers, ev...
APPOINTMENTS
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
opinion
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
Help
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...