ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Media release: The wrong sort of change: Racial Discrimination Act

28 March 2014

The community in Canberra welcomes the ACT Green’s plan, announced by Minister Rattenbury today, to address any gaps in protections or sanctions that arise as a result of Federal Government changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS), ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body, Canberra Multicultural Community Forum, Gugan Gulwan Youth Aboriginal Corporation, and Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service have serious concerns over proposed amendments to what is an important piece of legislation in protecting citizens from racial intolerance, vilification and humiliation.

If the changes are passed into law, it will no longer be an offence to “offend, insult or humiliate” someone because of their race or ethnicity. ACTCOSS Director, Susan Helyar said, “These changes will affect many of these organisations’ constituents, in particular people from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse backgrounds and Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples. Repealing Section 18C, in particular, will reduce the basic protections that all people are entitled to, regardless of their race.”

Ms Helyar continued, “Moreover, racism can perpetuate the cycle of disadvantage, impacting on people’s opportunities for education, employment and housing. The Federal Government does not appear to have given any consideration to the grave social impacts which the changes to the Act will have”.

Executive Director of Gugan Gulwan, Kim Davison, agreed noting, “Any changes to the Racial Discrimination Act will have harmful effects and will undoubtedly place the focus on bigotry, hatred and acts of intolerance. Gugan Gulwan works tirelessly to ensure our youth and their families have basic and fundamental rights to have fair and equal treatment and the ability to achieve their full potential. If the green light is given to these changes, and we again embed racism and intolerance in policy and legislation, we hark back to the days of the White Australia Policy. The question is, do we want racism and intolerance to be acceptable in Australian society and to shape our way of life?”

For more information or comment please contact

  • Susan Helyar, Director ACTCOSS, on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200
  • Diana Abdel-Rahman, Canberra Multicultural Community Forum, on 0410 644 595
  • Julie Tongs OAM, CEO Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service, on 02 6284 6222.