The Macedonian (SLAVONIC) Language Case

On 14 March 1994 the Ethnicity Directive was issued by the Federal Government of Australia . In response to, and reliance on the Ethnicity Directive, on 21 July 1994 the Language Directive was issued by the former Premier of Victoria, Mr Jeff Kennett. This Directive required any official Victorian State Government reference to the Macedonian language to take the form of Macedonian (Slavonic).

The practical effect of this directive was to rename the Macedonian language in Victoria.

In response to the language directive, the Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee Inc. (AMHRC) lodged a claim with the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) which challenged the Victorian Government's directive on the grounds that it was discriminatory and racially based. At first instance the HREOC did not accept the AMHRCs contention that the directive was discriminatory in nature and effect.

Following HREOCs decision, an appeal was lodged by the Macedonian Teachers' Association of Victoria Inc with the Federal Court of Australia. On 21 December 1998, His Honour Justice Weinberg handed down his decision. His Honour ordered that the decision of the HREOC be set aside, and that the complaint be remitted to HREOC for further consideration according to law. His Honour noted in the evidence put before him that nowhere else in the world, apart from Victoria, is the Macedonian language described as Macedonian (Slavonic). His Honour further noted that the directive was implemented without any consultation with the Macedonian Community and that the directive has had a detrimental effect on multicultural education in Victoria.

In response to Justice Weinberg's decision the Kennett Government lodged an appeal with the Full Federal Court of Australia. On 16 September 1999. The Full Federal Court upheld the decision of Justice Weinberg and dismissed the appeal by the Victorian State Government. In arriving at their decision, Justices North, Sundberg and O'Connor, alluded to the fact that the language directive is based on a racial distinction and is potentially in breach of section 9(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth).

On 15 October 1999, the Kennett Government, as one of its final actions in power, filed an application for special leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia.

Following its election victory in mid October 1999, the Bracks Labor Government continued to enforce the Language Directive. It also came to light that the Premier, as Minister for Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs, made an executive decision to continue with the High Court Appeal process. The High Court rejected the Governments application on 26 May 2000 and remitted the matter back to the HREOC for further hearing.

Commissioner Street of the HREOC handed down his decision on 8 September 2000. In his final determination the Commissioner made the following comments, I declare that the Respondent (Victorian Government) has engaged in conduct rendered unlawful by section 9 (1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) by the act of issuing the directive in the terms of the memorandum dated 21 July 1994 which involved a distinction based on ethnic origin in re-naming the language Macedonian and had the effect of impairing the recognition on an equal footing of a human right in the cultural life of users of the Macedonian language and I declare that the Respondent not continue such unlawful conduct.

The wording adopted in Section 9(1) of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) was modelled on Article 1.1 of the International Human Rights Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination as ratified by Australia. As a consequence the Victorian Government was in direct contravention of the Racial Discrimination Act and of the Convention itself.

All Victorian government departments have now declared the language to be Macedonian. Notably though it took an enormous effort on the part of the AMHRC and the MTA to finally reach this end.

The HREOC decision of 8 September 2000 can be downloaded here.