Artists and the Racial Discrimination Act

In 2014 the Government announced it would not go ahead with proposals by the Federal Attorney General, George Brandis to change the Racial Discrimination Act, which could have had a deleterious affect on artists. In 2016 this issue has surfaced again with some in the Coalition once again seeking this change to ss. 18B – E.

A circular conference room full of people looking towards a speaker.

William Yang keynote presentation at the IETM Conference in Melbourne, 2014.

NAVA was relieved to learn that early in August 2014, the Government decided not to proceed with its proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA). When the changes were first announced, NAVA made a submission arguing that artists should be able to take a critical stance through their artwork. While NAVA made it clear that it did not support the weakening of the protection against discrimination provided by the Act, NAVA was concerned that there was a proposal to remove specific exemptions for artists.
The Exposure Draft detailed the intention to repeal ss. 18B – E and supported new provisions that:

  • confined racist behaviour to ‘vilification’ and ‘intimidation’
  • provided a different standard to determine the effect of ‘vilification’ and ‘intimidation’ ie. according to the ‘standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community’
  • broadened the scope of exemptions removed the requirements of good faith, reasonableness, public interest, genuine belief and fair and accurate reporting
  • significantly, it removed s18D (a) and (b) that specify exemptions for artists in the performance, exhibition or distribution of their work.

NAVA had urged two alternative courses of action:

  • that the Government should not proceed with the proposed amendments, as the RDA already establishes an equitable balance between upholding freedom of speech and maintaining protections against racial discrimination, or
  • that the ambiguity evident in the proposed amendments to the Act be clarified by the inclusion of explicit protection of artists’ rights to freedom of expression. Moreover, the requirements of artistic work to be done reasonably and in good faith should be retained.

On April 30th 2014 NAVA lodged a submission in relation to proposed reforms to the Racial Discrimination Act as outlined in the Exposure Draft of the Freedom of Speech (Repeal of S. 18C) Bill 2014.

NAVA argued that the proposed reforms did not adequately protect the right of freedom of expression held by artists within their particular context and exposed artists to legal action and prosecution under the RDA.

NAVA's Racial Discrimination submission. (321.2 KB)

Artists and the Racial Discrimination Act