Anti-Semitism, Hate Speech and Pt IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act

Ronald Sackville AO QC

In Australia, hate speech laws such as Pt !IA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) have always generated controversy. Those laws and the international human rights regime that underpin them have been strongly influenced by the experience of the Holocaust and by the dangers of anti-Semitism. An understanding of the nature of anti-Semitism and of the Australian case law dealing with anti-Semitic speech sheds light on the debate as to whether the curiously drafted Pt !IA should be retained, amended or discarded. The article argues that there are powerful policy reasons for retaining Pt !IA and other hate speech laws, but that the legislation should be amended to substitute objective tests for subjective criteria. The amendments would achieve a more defensible balance between the legitimate protection of vulnerable groups from serious hate speech and the values of free speech.