Saturday, August 11, 2012

call me anything, just don’t call me late for dinner

I hate to admit I’ve been trawling the IPA* website, but sometimes it’s better to hear something straight from the horse’s as mouth**.

Mr Rabbit has been in trouble for saying the LNP would repeal S 18C of the Racial Vilification Act.

Stupidly, he made a reference to Andrew Bolt’s infamous ‘professional Aborigines’ article. In said article Bolt took sarcasm to an all time low, and mentioned some high profile light-skinned Aboriginal activists by name. With particular reference to Larissa Behrendt he not only made an error of taste but also of fact.

In Am I Black Enough For You, Anita Heiss explained her decision to join the action taken by Bolt’s targets. What offended her was not so much the content of the article itself, but the hateful filth left unmoderated on the Hun’s blog-space.
That the Hun provided a space for people to spew race hate was what really made her angry.

Mr Rabbit did not praise the article but nonetheless took up Bolt’s cry about freedom of speech.
In his address to the IPA, Mr Rabbit was primarily concerned with the question of political control of newspapers, and the idea of a government holding the media to a government standard of what constitutes truth. In a ‘fairer’ context, here is some of what Mr Rabbit had to say:

The Coalition rejects the Finkelstein proposals and calls on the government to do likewise.

It is not the role of government to manage the day-to-day practices of journalism; to dictate who can and who can’t control Australian media outlets; or to “score” media coverage against unavoidably subjective standards of fairness. The job of government is to foster free speech, not stifle it. It’s to increase the number and the range of people who can participate in public debate, not reduce it.

Additional regulation is one current threat to free speech in Australia. Another is the operation of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which prohibits statements that “offend”.

The not-yet-under-Goebbels’ government-control media took his comment about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and ran with it.

In support of freedom of speech, Mr Rabbit included the mandatory ‘defend to the death’ quote from Voltaire, but also made some other valid points.

Freedom of speech is not just an academic nicety but the essential pre-condition for any kind of progress. … To the extent that alternatives can’t be discussed, people are tethered to the status quo, regardless of its effectiveness…

Why am I supporting this would-be leader whose ideas I generally find loathsome? Because on this issue he is right.

Free speech can be restrained at the margins but only in order to secure other important rights.

Let’s be clear: insulting, humiliating or intimidating others on any grounds, racial or otherwise, is deplorable. It should be everyone’s goal to elevate the standards of public debate, not lower them [Mr Rabbit’s irony probably unintended] and to demonstrate respect rather than disdain for the various components of our community.

Why repeal S 18C?

… a “hurt feelings” test is impossible to comply with while maintaining the fearless pursuit of truth …

The Coalition will repeal section 18C in its current form [emphasis mine].

Surely we need some kind of legislative prohibition of hateful vilification. What could we do to provide such a prohibition if S18C is repealed?

Any prohibitions on inciting hatred against or intimidation of particular racial groups should be akin to the ancient common law offences of incitement and causing fear.


There are two related issues I would like to go on about here.

Firstly, as I have said before [and will continue to say til I get the wording more eloquenterer] there is no way to legislate common sense. The more governments try to pin down what pisses us off, the more problems they create.

Common law is based on the concept of what a ‘reasonable person’ would think. Decisions in common law do not rely on and are not restricted to statutory waffle whether something is just or not.

The concept of ‘offence’ is totally subjective.

We would not have to rely on necessarily inadequate statutes if ‘we the people’ had reasonable access to common law. Access to the right of redress at common law is what governments should be aiming for, not the type of ‘micro-management’ Rudd has been allegedly guilty of.


Secondly, with respect to Bolt’s article and questions of racial identity, we should remember that Larissa Behrendt has been accused of tweeting a particularly personal and vicious remark about Ms Bessie Price.***

Australia’s indigenous people are many peoples and are also entitled to be seen as individuals. Ms Price is not legally or morally bound, just because she is black, to toe some imaginary indigenous party line. Even if this were true, who in God’s name is Larissa Behrendt to decide what that party line should be?

Ms Price has been vilified for speaking in favour of the Northern Territory intervention. As our indigenous people are many peoples and as they live in many disparate communities, it is appropriate for decisions about the intervention to be made at community level.

Ms Price has been endorsed by the LNP coalition as a candidate in the next Northern Territory elections. If she were standing in my electorate I would vote for her in a heartbeat.

She and her [white] husband campaign tirelessly for white understanding of black issues, and against violence in Aboriginal communities. She works to achieve an important goal that is too often forgotten – the adaptation of traditional indigenous culture to a new reality without total destruction of that culture.

Ms Price is a gutsy, committed, honest and compassionate woman of vision. She would have every right to take offence at the way she is disparaged by Aboriginal thought police - but only if it is racially motivated?

Statutes cannot always and everywhere force people to act decently without stifling important debate.

What Mr Rabbit is proposing is not to silence the Larissa’s of this world.
He is proposing that I should be able to write a post like this without someone taking offence too far.
What he is proposing - effectively if not consciously - is that someone at the Hun should take responsibility for moderating Bolt’s provocative blogs, and be careful not to leave ‘inciteful’ remarks unchallenged.

Stop Press – it seems someone is out to get Bessie Price under S18C of the Racial Vilification Act. Let the games begin.

*The Institute of Public Affairs, Australia
** My almost Freudian slip would not have been personal is it appeared in Hansard, but why should I lower my standards?
*** Was the tweet as personal as it appears to be in the photo above? 


  1. This is definitely a political hot potato which i'm giving a very wide berth to indeed. Freedom of speech is a grey area when you consider that you can be taken to court and sued for what you write or say on any subject, so in reality it doesn't exist.

    1. I can't say I disagree with you Windsmoke. Like most 'rights' it's really only an idea.

  2. Yep.

    The concept of offense IS subjective.

    I've encountered people in which simply disagreeing with them is a HUGE offense.

    If that attitude became legislation, we'd all be in deep shit.

    So yeah. Offensiveness is hard to regulate. Impossible, I suppose.

    I wish it wasn't an issue. I wish people knew how to debate issues without name-calling, bigotry, ostracising, threats of violence, etc.

    I guess it's up to us..NOT the moderate and defend.

    1. Hi Dina, I can't say I disagree with you. Sometimes a law can only try to set out principles or standards. The rest is up to us.

  3. The others have said it all. It is up to us .