To The Editor
The proposed reforms to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act suggested by Judge Ron Sackville ('Align 18C with community standards: judge', The Australian, 20-21/8) are not a satisfactory defence of free speech on race.
Firstly, there is no need to balance freedom of speech with retention of 'an effective armoury against racial hatred'. Such a retention is a significant and unacceptable inhibition on true freedom of speech, because of the range of interpretations to which the phrase 'racial hatred' is subject.
Secondly, 'community standards' is not an adequately objective way of measuring acceptability of speech. Communities are not necessarily adequately educated or informed; their standards may be out of accord with truth; and in a free society such standards themselves must be able to be publicly criticised without incurring sanctions.
Thirdly, the new terms proposed by Sackville ('degrades, intimidates, incites hatred or contempt') are just as vague and subjective as the present terms ('offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates') and can easily be misused to censor reasonable speech by dissident critics, such as revisionist historians.
The fears that 'Australians have no visibility about the process that is taking place inside the Human Rights Commission' will be best laid to rest by returning the nation to unequivocally free speech on race. That means the abolition of 18C.
NJ, Belgrave, Vic