Proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act: an explainer

black and white chess pieces symbolise racial harmony

There is much controversy about the Government's plans to change Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. So, why do so many people care?

The facts: the current law

It is against the law to do something in public likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or group of people due to their race, colour, nationality or ethnicity.

So, what does the federal Turnbull Government want to do?

The Turnbull government wants to change the law by removing the words ‘offend, insult and humiliate’. And replace them with the words: ‘harass and intimidate’.

Why does the federal government want to make these changes?

They claim it will make the law 'fairer' and more in keeping with the standards of the 'reasonable man on the street'.

What inspired the proposed changes?

The proposed changes were partly inspired by a case brought against Bill Leak for a cartoon in The Australian, and a case involving some university students.

But not everyone agrees that the laws which protect people against racial discrimination should be changed.

Those opposed to the proposed changes?

Critics including the Greens and Labor say the proposed changes water down the laws too much. They argue it will make it easier for people to be racially abused if you take out the words 'offend, insult and humiliate'.

What's the argument all about?

This is about striking a balance between the standards that should apply to the way people treat each other with the freedom to say what you like.

So what do you think? Should the law be changed?

You can find out more about discrimination and breaches of human rights here.

This page was last updated on March 30, 2017