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Monthly Chronicle - - Front Page - Jenny Bar­lass

The tricky bal­anc­ing act of the right to free­dom of speech and pre­vent­ing racial abuse through in­flam­ma­tory lan­guage, has been a per­sonal cru­sade for Berowra MP Ju­lian Leeser.

In what has been an in­tractable po­lit­i­cal is­sue for six years, the MP and mem­ber of the Par­lia­men­tary Joint Com­mit­tee on Hu­man Rights has de­scribed the Com­mit­tee's re­cently com­pleted Re­port and re­sul­tant changes to the Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act as “an his­toric break­through”.

Mr Leeser was a driv­ing force be­hind the rec­om­men­da­tions to fix the com­plaints han­dling process re­lat­ing to Sec­tion 18C of the Act.

Un­der ex­ist­ing leg­is­la­tion, in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Act en­abled the Aus­tralian Hu­man Right Com­mis­sion (HRC) to in­ter­pret laws too broadly, the bi­par­ti­san Com­mit­tee felt. The re­cent cases of the stu­dents at Queens­land Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy, and the com­plaint against the late car­toon­ist Bill Leak, brought the is­sue to promi­nence.

Rec­om­mended changes to 18C of the Act pro­posed a tight­en­ing up of the way racial abuse com­plaints are han­dled, as well as as­sess­ing if a com­plaint is law­ful or not - a weed­ing out process of sorts.

In late March the Se­nate and House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed the Bill in an amended form, though the pro­pos­als for RDA lan­guage changes were not in­cluded.

These new RDA changes in­clude lawyers be­ing fined for tak­ing on racial abuse cases with lit­tle chance of suc­cess, and giv­ing the HRC more power to ter­mi­nate a com­plaint in the com­plaints as­sess­ing process, saving ev­ery­one con­cerned time and money.

Leeser, who sat on the in­quiry into Free­dom of Speech, said: “I was dis­gusted by the treat­ment of the QUT Stu­dents and Bill Leak.

“We heard from them at the in­quiry and it was im­pos­si­ble not to be moved by their or­deal.

“This leg­is­la­tion will re­turn sec­tion 18C to its in­tended func­tion as an im­por­tant but lim­ited pro­tec­tion against the worst kind of racial abuse. It will also make it more dif­fi­cult to bring spu­ri­ous com­plaints.”

Ju­lian Leeser played a sig­nif­i­cant role in changes to the Racial Dis­crim­i­na­tion Act

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