With the recent controversy over the Abbott government’s proposed plans to alter the Racial Discrimination Act, and our Attorney-General George Brandis’ claim yesterday that ‘people have a right to be bigots,’ you might be forgiven for forgetting our brighter moments in the history of multiculturalism.

So here’s a few examples of the times when Australia has stood up and said ‘no’ to racism.

1. Racial Discrimination Act, 1975 

This Act was passed during the Prime Ministership of Gough Whitlam to ensure that people of all backgrounds are treated equally and have the same opportunities. It has been in place for almost 20 years.


Image source: Art Gallery of NSW

2.  An anti-racism rally, 2005

Held in Bourke Street, Melbourne, this rally was attended by over 2000 people, in response to the violence seen during the Cronulla Riots. This protest sparked numerous apologies to the Islamic community from local surf clubs and groups including the ‘bra boys’. 


Image source: SMH

3. Apology to Indigenous ‘Stolen Generation’, 2008

On 13 February 2008, Kevin Rudd became the first Prime Minister of Australia to issue a public apology to the Stolen Generations on behalf of the Australian federal government. Thousands gathered in Canberra to watch the historic apology.


Candles form the words “Sorry, The First Step” on the lawn outside Parliament House in Canberra. Image Source: SafeCom

“We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.
A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again…

…A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.”

 – Kevin Rudd, 2008.

4. Rallies against Indian attacks, 2009

Thousands gathered in Sydney and Melbourne to protest against attacks against indian students, which were perceived to be racially motivated.


Image source- ABC News 

5. March in March, 2014.

In the most recent protest, tens of thousands united in over 20 cities across Australia to protest against the Abbott government, yet received very little media coverage. Among the issues protested? The Abbott government’s treatment of Asylum Seekers. This video from Optical Alkemi shows some of the Melbourne protesters in action.  


‘I’m not going to treat refugees as second-class citizens,‘ Dyan, Blackburn. Source: SBS



So, with the Abbott Government’s New Discrimination draft stirring up controversy, what are the facts?

What does the current law say?

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act makes illegal any act that is found to be ‘reasonably likely to… offend, insult, humiliate or indimidate’ on the basis of race or ethinicity.

Section 18B exempts any speech ‘done reasonably and in good faith – including artistic works and scientific discussion. These laws have in been place for almost two decades.

What are the proposed changes?

The Abbott government has expressed into to repeal sections 18B-E of the Act. This would make it legal to ‘offend, insult and humiliate’ others because of their race, colour, or ethnic origins. According to the Abbott government, however, new provisions would be made, making it unlawful to ‘vilify’ or ‘intimidate’.