Federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has dropped a controversial clause from the draft anti-discrimination bill after fierce public debate.

Section 19(2)(b) has been removed from the draft and related to the definition of discrimination but extended it to include ‘offend or insult’.

Gay rights advocates and the Australian Human Rights Commission have both welcomed the announcement.

NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights co-convenor Justin Koonin welcomed the announcement because it restored  focus on the central elements of the new bill, including protection on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity for the first time at a federal level.

“Debate over the words ‘offend or insult’ threatened to stall progress on this important piece of human rights legislation,” he said.

“An exposure draft bill is exactly that – a draft – and we congratulate Minister Roxon for being open to feedback and working towards a practical solution.”

Australian Human Rights Commission president Professor Gillian Triggs has also welcomed the attorney-general’s move to amend the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

“The removal of Section 19(2)(b), which includes the test of ‘offend or insult’, which has caused much heated debate, is an eminently sensible option,” Triggs said.

“The ongoing focus on this provision only served to distract from what is otherwise very worthy legislation.

 “I believe the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 is a balanced package that achieves the objectives of delivering legislation which is more efficient, effective and easier to understand and comply with than the existing framework,” Triggs said.

Triggs stressed that the aim of the bill was to consolidate the existing five anti-discrimination Acts into one and to achieve overall consistency in the way the various grounds for discrimination are handled.

She said the ongoing focus on the offend and insult provisions could have derailed the bill.

In a statement yesterday, Roxon announced she had advised her staff early last month to draft alternative sections that had raised freedom of speech concerns.

“Officials from the Attorney-General’s Department will present these options to the committee at their next hearing for consideration. These options will include removal of section 19(2)(b),” she said.

“As I have said before, the main objective of this bill is to simplify and consolidate many discrimination laws into one. It has never been the Government’s intention to restrict free speech.

“In Australia it should always be lawful to be offensive about a person’s football team or cooking – but not to deny service to someone because they are a woman or a particular race for example.

“The original wording of this section of the exposure draft sought to consolidate into legislation the decisions and precedents of the courts – that discrimination includes harassment. It was not an attempt to extend the laws to new areas.”

The draft bill included sexual orientation and gender diversity as protected grounds for the first time in federal law.

 

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