Hundreds of Australians Protest Reforms to Race Laws as Labour Prepares to Block Changes

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By Reissa Su | May 26, 2014 4:51 PM EST

Hundreds of Australians marched against the planned changes to Australia's Racial Discrimination Act. According to reports, about 500 Australians converged at a high street in Sydney as a sign of protest. People from different ethnic backgrounds from different age groups were united in expressing their opposition to the country's race laws.

The march was organised by Labour and began with an Aboriginal smoking ceremony. Protesters marched to the sound of drummers with a Chinese dance troupe. According to the imam of Lakemba mosque, Sheikh Yahya Safi, they gathered to "encourage respect in all forms."

Meanwhile, the Australian Labour Party has begun its negotiations with cross-bench senators in a move to block the proposed reform of racial discrimination laws.

According to a Mapping Social Cohesion survey conducted by the Scanlon Foundation, 19 per cent of Australians experience discrimination because of their ethnic origin, religious beliefs and colour of skin.

The latest figure has increased from 12 per cent in 2012. Since the survey began in 2007, it was the highest level of discrimination rate. Experts blame the rise of racism to uncertainty in the economy, surge of asylum seekers and the current government's interest to amend the Racial Discrimination Act.

Attorney-General George Brandis defended the proposed changes in Parliament and said, "people do have the right to be a bigot, you know." By giving that statement, he gave approval to 30 per cent of Australians who do not feel comfortable with cultural diversity to express their racial prejudices.  

The Abbott government has announced a draft of its proposed legislation on March 25 to replace racial discrimination laws which have been in place for nearly two decades and used by the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. Under the federal government's proposed changes, the new Racial Discrimination Act will no longer make it illegal to "offend, insult or humiliate" an Australian because of their race or ethnicity.

Yin Paredies from Deakin University said weakening the Racial Discrimination Act will create an environment in which people will begin to think it's alright to be a racist. 

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