By KIERAN FINNANE
Alice Springs Town Council should lobby the NT and federal governments on the issue of mooted amendments to the federal Racial Discrimination Act, specifically the repeal of section 18C, Councillor Chansey Paech (right) has urged.
The section makes it unlawful for a person to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” others because of their race (for more, see Professor Andrew Lynch’s comment in The Age).
Cr Paech surprised council last night with a Notice of Motion on the matter. Cr Eli Melky seconded on the spot.
Cr Paech said Alice Springs is a “harmonious multicultural community” and council should be concerned to protect its members from “hate speech”. The RDA should be left as it is, having operated well for four decades, he argued.
His motion sought that council express its understanding of the “fundamental importance” of section 18C, recognising the protection it provides; that it urge all levels of government to “combat bigotry at every opportunity”; that it write to the NT Government to express its concerns; and that it request the Federal Attorney-General, George Brandis, to withdraw his “draft exposure amendment”.
Senator Brandis, in defending his move to repeal 18C, controversially defended people’s “right to be bigots”.
Cr Steve Brown did not want to vote on the matter without having more information before him: what does the section say now, what is the change being proposed.
Crs Brendan Heenan, Kylie Bonnani and Liz Martin were of the same view, with Cr Martin wanting to know why council should write to the NT Government on the issue.
There are no legislative provisions in place in the NT (that address racial vilification), unlike in other jurisdictions, said Cr Paech, and other groups are looking to address that lack.
He did not go into specifics but Opposition Leader Delia Lawrie has announced she will be seeking bipartisan support for a private member’s bill to strengthen the NT’s Anti-Discrimination Act.
Chairing the committee meeting, Cr Jade Kudrenko suggested a report be provided to the Ordinary Meeting at the end of the month.
Crs Paech and Melky didn’t see why council should defer a decision, seeing protection against bigotry as a cut and dry matter.
However, Director of Corporate and Community Services Craig Catchlove told the meeting he would like to do a report; it was a “point of view”that the Act has uniformly “worked well”, he said; and “debateable”that section 18C was a safeguard against hate speech. The matter needs to be “fully put to members”.
It was agreed to defer.
By KIERAN FINNANE