"CIVIC literacy is a vital part of democracy. It is a credit to the community of Taree, to St Clare's High School that this Human Rights Group exists and that students felt encouraged and engaged to particicpate in the political process in such an outstanding and remarkable way."
The praise of NSW Senator Deborah O'Neill comes in the wake of her visit to Taree on July 21 to speak to students about their submission and petition opposing proposed amendments to Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The students asked Senator O'Neill to represent their concerns and she travelled to Taree to meet with more than 40 students from the group at the school for more than an hour.
The St Clare's Human Rights Group launched a website and online campaign in April to promote and seek support for their petition and submission. The website www.humanrightsgroup. org.au/joinourfight included their submission, a petition and a You Tube video. The submission highlights the group's "concerns of the amendment, from the neglect of the psychological and mental impacts of racism, to the exemptions which allow journalists and politicians to deliberately launch factually incorrect and untruthful attacks on race."
Senator O'Neill commented that "it is often challenging for individuals and groups to speak about issues, particularly controversial issues, and so what they (the group) has done is significant and important."
"The quality of the submission is remarkable, and the students are an amazing group who are so generously encouraged by Phillip Chalmers," Senator O'Neill said.
Mr Chalmers is the co-ordinator of the St Clare's Human Rights Group and he described the senator's visit to the school as "fantastic".
"The senator is a very impressive person and she really affirmed the children for what they were doing," Mr Chalmers said.
Senator O'Neill said it was "unprecedented as to how the government was dealing with this piece of legislation."
"In a piece of legislation that relates to free speech it is extraordinary that the government has prevented the public release of the submissions on the proposed changes."
The Sydney Morning Herald reported in May that the government had received more than 5300 submissions on the proposed amendments.