Protecting the right to be a 'bigot' in the wake of the 'Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples'

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The recent debate over the Abbott government's proposed amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) raise pertinent questions about Australian values and the Australian national identity. In support of the amendments and the right to free speech they were intended to protect, Attorney-General George Brandis unashamedly declared our right to be bigots. But is this a right worth protecting in Australian law? In the absence of a bill of rights, the issue becomes one that may only be resolved by reference to prevailing social values. As it will be contended in this article, official apologies made in response to past wrongs could help illuminate the values of the societies in which they are made. In the case of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's 'Apology to Australia's Indigenous Peoples' there was the opportunity for the government to commit to the values of equality and freedom from discrimination - values that are completely at odds with the proposed amendments. The first part of the article examines the main functions of an interpersonal apology and how these functions could translate in political and legal terms and advance the claims of Indigenous peoples for justice. In view of this discussion, the second part of the article examines some of the shortcomings of the Apology. In exploring these aspects of the Apology, the article will consider how they have severely limited the potential of an apology to stimulate change in the treatment of Indigenous peoples and to promote the values of equality and freedom from discrimination in Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)47-71
Number of pages25
JournalMacquarie Law Journal
Publication statusPublished - 2014

Bibliographical note

Publisher version archived with the permission of the Dean, Division of Law, Macquarie University, NSW, Australia. This copy is available for individual, non-commercial use. Permission to reprint/republish this version for other uses must be obtained from the publisher.


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