18C battle won but war not over: Congress
The National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples said its fight to preserve section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act was not over.
The Congress said in a statement while the Senate had voted against proposed changes to the section last week, it was concerned some conservative forces were pushing for it to become an issue at the next federal election.
Labor, the Greens and several cross benchers, including Nick Xenophon and Jacqui Lambie, voted against the Turnbull government’s proposed amendments, defeating the Bill 31-28.
But Congress said this week it would not be letting its guard down.
“There is still a need to continue fighting for 18C,” it said.
The government had wanted to replace the words “insult”, “offend” and “humiliate” in the Act with the word “harass”.
The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) said the defeat of the proposed changes was “a commonsense victory for Aboriginal Australians and human rights”.
ALS Chairman and Walbunga elder Bunja Smith thanked the Senators who defeated the changes.
“We applaud them all for standing up for Aboriginal Australians,” Mr Smith said.
Reconciliation Australia said it was encouraged by the Senate outcome.
A United Nations official who was in Australia on an official visit at the time of the debate said she was disheartened the government chose to try to make its amendments on the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
“The process was undertaken without due consultation and notably Indigenous organisations were not among those invited to comment ahead of the Senate debate on the draft bill,” Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said.
“The draft bill was defeated in the Senate on Thursday night last week and I sincerely hope that this marks the end of the matter.”