News National Burnside: Fine-tuning of section 18C acceptable

Burnside: Fine-tuning of section 18C acceptable

Julian Burnside
Julian Burnside plans to stand as a Greens candidate in Kooyong. Photo: AAP
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Prominent human rights lawyer and asylum seeker advocate Julian Burnside says existing racial discrimination laws go too far by making it an offence to upset people.

The federal government wants to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and remove prohibitions on public discussion and commentary that offends, insults or humiliates individuals or groups because of their race or ethnicity.

“The mere fact that you insult or offend someone probably should not, of itself, give rise to legal liability,” Mr Burnside told AAP on Saturday.

“My personal view is that 18C probably reached a bit far so a bit of fine-tuning would probably be OK.

“The idea that speech `which insults a group’ is arguably going too far.”

Mr Burnside argued that Aboriginal academics would have been better off pursuing a libel case against conservative columnist Andrew Bolt, who in 2011 was prosecuted under the Racial Discrimination Act for suggesting “fair-skinned people” of diverse ancestry had chosen an indigenous identity for political and career reasons.

“The plaintiffs in that case could very easily have sued for libel and they would have won on the facts found by the judge,” Mr Burnside said.

“The fact is they wanted to make a clear point that they were not suing in order to get money but to get vindication.”

But Mr Burnside is not in favour of completely repealing section 18C, arguing Attorney-General George Brandis had made an error by suggesting in parliament that people had a right to be bigots, as part of free speech.

“It was very unfortunate that Senator Brandis … in fact gave the green light to bigotry,” he said.

“I don’t think we should tolerate or encourage bigotry in the community.”