Ideas and Society: Racism in Australia

Should we amend the Racial Discrimination Act?

Australian Human Rights Commissioner Dr Tim Soutphommasane will discuss proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act at an upcoming Ideas and Society event at La Trobe University.

Convenor of the Ideas and Society program, Professor Robert Manne, will join Dr Soutphommasane to consider the potential impact of the changes being proposed by Federal Attorney General Senator George Brandis to Section 18C of the Act.

The event will be hosted at La Trobe University by Senior Lecturer in Politics Dr Gwenda Tavan and is a unique opportunity to hear from and ask questions of Dr Soutphommasane on this complex issue.

'Dr Tim Soutphommasane is one of the most talented political thinkers of his generation,' Professor Manne said.

'His appointment as Race Discrimination Commissioner in 2013 is very fortunate for Australia as we navigate the complexities inherent to our culturally diverse society.'

'No one is better equipped to discuss the problem of how we can best find a balance between two fundamental values: the right to freedom of speech and the protection of citizens from racial abuse,' Professor Manne said.

In a recent article for The Age newspaper, Dr Soutphommasane wrote:

'Our laws are bound with our values. They express how we aspire to conduct our lives together. Like the many communities that have spoken this week, I have very serious concerns about proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

'I never imagined I would be asked to comment on whether Australians enjoyed "the right to be bigots",' Dr Soutphommasane wrote. 'It is a measure of how dangerous some of the debate about the Racial Discrimination Act has become.'

Event details

What:  Ideas and Society event: Should we amend the Racial Discrimination Act?

When:  Tuesday 6 May 2014, 12.30pm – 2.00pm

Where:  John Scott Meeting House, La Trobe University, Bundoora

Attendance: All welcome, no RSVP required

Webcast: Watch live or after the event

Social media: Follow @latrobenews on Twitter and use the hashtag #ideasandsociety to join the conversation

Media contact

Suzi Macbeth, Media and Communications Officer

T  + 61 3 9479 5353 | E


Tim Soutphommasane commenced his five-year appointment as Race Discrimination Commissioner in 2013. Prior to joining the Australian Human Rights Commission, he was a political philosopher at the University of Sydney and the author of three books. Dr Soutphommasane is a member of the Australian Multicultural Council and has a Doctor of Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

Gwenda Tavan lectures at La Trobe University in a variety of areas, including Australian politics, political communication and political culture. Her research interests include Australian political institutions and culture, and the politics and history of immigration. Dr Tavan's best-known work is the award-winning The Long, Slow Death of White Australia, published in 2005.

Robert Manne is Emeritus Professor of Politics, a Vice-Chancellor's Fellow and Convenor of the Ideas & Society Program at La Trobe University. A leading public intellectual and commentator, he is the author/editor of over 20 books including Left, Right, Left: Political Essays 1977 - 2005; Making Trouble: Essays against the New Australian Complacency and three Quarterly Essays, most recently Bad News.