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HOW far should freedom of expression be permitted to damage the public interest and the rights of others?
Under common law, speech defined by section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (now proposed for repeal) would not be unlawful unless the effects were serious and profound.
The act provides strong safeguards for free speech. Section 18D specifies that acts are lawful if they are done, for instance, reasonably and in good faith, in the course of debate or fair comment for any genuine purpose, in the public interest.
Under international treaty, Australia has an undischarged obligation to make incitement to racial hatred a criminal offence. Three times the Senate has rejected such provisions. The repeal of section 18C would leave the commonwealth with no law (civil or criminal) prohibiting a number of presently unlawful racist acts.
Where is the public interest? In multi-racial Australia, there is a continuing need to promote and strengthen social cohesion. The present act does that quite effectively while reasonably safeguarding freedom of expression.
There is one exception. Incitement to racial hatred should be made a criminal offence.