A PROMINENT local Aboriginal leader has condemned proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.
Managing director of Habitat Personnel, Gerry Moore has described the federal government’s proposal as a retrograde step.
Mr Moore, who is also a board member of the National Congress of Australia’s First People, has appealed to the Shoalhaven community and its elected leaders to speak out against the changes and tell the government it is wrong.
“The Closing the Gap strategy is starting to show some improvements across the Aboriginal community and it is deeply distressing that the Attorney-General is moving to water down the Anti-Discrimination Act by removing section 18C,” he said.
“It is a retrograde step that will undo so much good work that has been achieved over many years and contributed to the increase of mutual trust and community acceptance.”
Attorney-General George Brandis this week defended the right of Australians to be bigots.
He outlined sweeping and controversial changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, with an exposure draft approved by the Coalition party room.
Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, in its current form, makes it unlawful for someone to act in a way that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race or ethnicity.
Senator Brandis wants to remove the words offend, insult and humiliate but to leave intimidate, which he said provoked fear.
The proposed changes will be subject to at least six weeks of community consultation.
A new section will be inserted into the Act, which will preserve the existing protection against intimidation and create a new protection from racial vilification.
“Why bother with a policy like Closing the Gap in a country that sanctions racial vilification?” Mr Moore asked.
He said Aboriginal people were trying to overcome the impact of generations of racism that had undermined access to equality.
“Most Australians recognise the failures of history, want to create positive changes and put the past where it belongs,” he said.
“We should learn from the past, not relive it, and that will be the outcome of the repeal of section 18C of the RDA.
“Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people have campaigned and fought for an Australian society that treats people fairly and equally over many years.”
He said Australia had become a society that had compassion and empathy.
“It is a place where mutual trust must become the cornerstone of working together,” Mr Moore said.
“I have spent my whole life fighting racism and discrimination and I will continue to do so until we have a fair and accepting society of all people, Aboriginal, Middle Eastern, Jews, Asians, everyone,” he said.
“Closing the Gap is not about health, education, law, justice and unemployment. It is about recognition and equity and we urge the Attorney-General to seriously rethink these changes which are unnecessary and counterproductive.”