Stand against bigotry wins support of Wollongong councillors

Wollongong councillors voiced resounding support for a motion urging the federal government to abandon its proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act at Monday night's meeting.

Labor councillor David Brown used a notice of motion to ask the council to recognise the "fundamental importance of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975" and urge all levels of government to take a stand against bigotry.

This section of the act is currently under review by Attorney-General George Brandis, who has proposed repealing 18C, which makes it unlawful for someone to publicly "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" a person or a group of people.

Senator Brandis told the Senate earlier this year: "People do have a right to be bigots, you know".

Introducing his motion, Cr Brown said removing the protections in 18C risked "undermining the bedrock that all people are to be treated fairly".

He said about 50 other Australian councils had supported similar motions, and said it was important for Wollongong to "make a principled statement as a successful multicultural society".

Voicing their strong support for the motion, Liberal councillors Bede Crasnich and Leigh Colacino shared their own experiences of racism as children, with Cr Crasnich saying there was "no excuse to make someone feel vilified because of race".

Cr Colacino said: "Bigotry is not and should not be used to defend bad pieces of law".

Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery gained support to strengthen the original motion, adding references to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while Vicki Curran said council should ask all MPs to work towards developing a Bill of Rights for Australia.

The amended motion was supported unanimously.

Southern Youth and Family Services chief executive Narelle Clay also spoke during the council's public access forum to urge support for Cr Brown's motion, saying she believed the changes to 18C were a way to "allow forms of basic hate language".

Ms Clay said Wollongong should remain a leader in its stance against racism, highlighting how many of her clients were refugees who had come to Australia to be free of persecution and violence.

She also spoke of the "shock and sadness" many in her organisation felt when they watched the horrific CCTV footage of Eritrean Tumezghi Tesfay being attacked at Wollongong railway station.

Ms Clay urged the council to erect a sign out the front of its headquarters stating: "The city of Wollongong welcomes asylum seekers and refugees".

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