'The debate over 18C' by David Rolph

It is not often that a legislative provision leaves the pages of the statute books and enters everyday conversation. Statutory interpretation rarely enters public consciousness. Yet this has been achieved by section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth). It is easily the most famous statutory provision in Australia.

The debate about 18C shows no signs of going away. Controversial at its enactment in 1995, it was, for the next fifteen years, largely uncontroversial. The sustained controversy surrounding 18C followed the Federal Court's decision in Eatock v Bolt. In September 2011, Justice Bromberg found that columns by Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt contravened 18C, by being public acts that were reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate, or intimidate people on the grounds of their race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, and that Bolt had not established an exemption under 18D – the complementary but often overlooked provision creating defences to 18C.

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Published in October 2016, no. 385

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