The Abbott government’s intention to amend national racist hate speech law has reignited a debate that has raged in Australia for decades: is there a place for laws that condemn public conduct that is likely to cause harm or generate ill-feeling towards racial minorities?
It’s an important question, and diverse views should be ventilated.
But the grand claims made from both corners – that hate speech laws have no place in a democracy, or that they are a valuable way of protecting minorities – are rarely backed up with evidence. This is unfortunate and unnecessary. Today, more than 20 years after the first hate speech laws were introduced, we can draw upon a wealth of experience.