The amendments sought to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 by the Australian Government will give rise to the advent of public race hate, foment racial tensions and solidify rampant racism according to the majority of non-Anglocentric cultures in Australia. Prime Minister Abbott’s Government is facing the likelihood of a standoff with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander communities over the proposed amendments but the Government is also facing a combined standoff with the Jewish, Arab, Armenian, Chinese, Greek, Lebanese and other Australian cultural groups.
In this Government’s first legislative move, the Attorney-General George Brandis is introducing a Bill to amend the Racial Discrimination Act that protects Australia’s cultural groups, which are in the hundreds, from what is tantamount to hate speech. Australia’s journey to establish anti-racism laws has been an arduous crawl but never in the last half century despite various reluctance and stonewalling has Australia legislatively gone backwards with anti-racism legislation, that is in repealing anti-racism legislation.
The various United Nations conventions on the fight to eliminate racism, which Australia is party to do not support Senator Brandis’ proposition to amend the Racial Discrimination Act. The Government appears to dislike the provision within Section 18C of the Act where it is unlawful to offend or insult people on the basis of their race. Senator Brandis’ move to amend this section of the Act is not seen by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders nor by the myriad migrant cultures nor by fair minded thinking Australians as championing freedom of expression but rather as the championing of the right to open slather – the right to demean and to cast aspersion and slur leading to prejudice.
The Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt’s published criticisms of Aboriginal Australians who appear ‘white’ rather than ‘black’ landed him in Court, but it was not the comment in itself that they are ‘fair-skinned’ that landed him in Court – it was the stir within the language and turn of phrases he used, what amounted to (racially) offensive language. He effectively accused ‘white’ Australians with some Aboriginal heritage to be cashing in on their Aboriginality despite in his view that Aboriginality is not their predominant identity. Mr Bolt claimed that some did this to cash in on various benefits and others to advance their careers.
Criticisms can be made constructively with all due courtesy and civility and without inciteful hate rendering arguments; without incurring slur and psychological harm upon others. This is the intent of the Racial Discrimination Act which the Australian Government is now intending to tamper with.
It is bewildering that with so much work yet to do in Australia, legislatively, in downing once and for all rampant racism, in a nation where the impacts and the wash of the White Australia Policy still languish, that what the Government’s first legislative striving will be is to strip back the Racial Discrimination Act.
The head of the Australian Jewry’s Executive Council, Peter Wertheim said that in repealing this section of the Act, that all cultural groups will be made vulnerable and put at-risk. Jewish leaders have spoken out against Mr Brandis’ proposal. Australian Jewry has united with the majority of Australian cultures and language groups to oppose this amendment.
“We have read with growing concern that the Government plans to remove or water down the protections against racial vilification,” reads a statement signed by a diverse group of Australians including the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the Australian Hellenic Council, the Arab Council Australia, the Lebanese Muslim Association, the Chinese Australian Forum and the Armenian National Council of Australia.
The statement continues, “We oppose absolutely any such change. Paradoxically for free speech advocates, racial vilification can have a silencing effect on those who are vilified.”
Irfan Yusuf is a lawyer and a former Liberal candidate but is critical of the proposed amendment. He said the enabling of the Act in 1975 complied Australia with its “international legal obligations including the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.”
“Twenty years later, the Act was amended to introduce provisions on racial hatred. These provisions, contained in Section 18C, make it unlawful for someone to publicly do something that is reasonably likely to offend, assault, humiliate or intimidate someone or a group,” said Mr Yusuf.
“Now it isn’t just any action that could be unlawful, it must be an action that is done because of the other person or group’s race, colour or national or ethnic origin.”
These provisions were passed with the support of both the then Prime Minister Paul Keating’s Government and the then John Howard led Opposition.
Mr Yusuf suggested that Andrew Bolt has the ear of Government, and that he is being supported by like-minded thinkers within the Government who harbour what should be outdated views of how one can address others. “The existence of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act hasn’t stopped Bolt from vilifying Africans, refugees, Muslims, Lebanese and other groups. Nor has it stopped the moderators of his blogs from publishing violent, paranoid, racist and even genocidal remarks.”
“Yet now, for the benefit of Bolt and his employers, Brandis is prepared to abandon his own principles, allowing Bolt to use his substantial power to trample on the weak and vilify minorities.”
Mr Yusuf argued the importance of 18C. “(You) may recall the adverse 2007 report of the Australian Communications and Media Authority about Alan Jones. (The) 80 page report had criticised Jones’ broadcasts in the days leading up to the 2005 Cronulla riots.”
Mr Yusuf said that “if your buddies in the media fall foul of the law, no worries… just change the law!”
“It doesn’t sound like responsible, let alone conservative or liberal, government o me.”
Senator Brandis said that he will consult widely before introducing the legislation. “One of my key priorities as Attorney-General is to rebalance the human rights debate in Australia.”
The calls for reform arise post the Eatock v. Bolt case in 2011, when the Federal Court found that newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt had acted unlawfully in reporting that fair-skinned Aboriginal people abused identity to claim welfare benefits.
In September 2011, Senator Brandis wrote, “It is clear that freedom of political expression in Australia is subject to a significant new constraint, which had not existed before. It is in the nature of political argument that it is commonly offensive to those who have the opposite view.”
“By making the reasonable likelihood of causing offence or insult the test of unacceptable behaviour, in any political context, section 18C is a grotesque limitation on ordinary political discourse. While some have pointed out the analogy with the limitations on free speech in the defamation laws, the threshold at which speech may be unlawful because it is defamatory is much higher. The traditional formula is that it must be likely to expose the victim into ‘hatred, ridicule or contempt.’ There is all the difference in the world between that standard and making unlawful speech merely because it causes offence.”
“English law has always defended freedom of speech jealously.”
“Restrictions on freedom of political discourse inevitably lead to restrictions on political opinion itself. There is very little distance between speech crime and what George Orwell called thoughtcrime. What section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act seeks to do, by prohibiting the expression of political views that mainstream society finds unattractive and objectionable, is to penalise the holding of those views at all.”
Former Ethnic Communities Council WA president Suresh Rajan said that if the amendment is passed it will be in direct conflict with Australia’s signing “of the London Declaration on Combating Anti-Semitism.”
“The Declaration was committed to by our Government at the time. The Tony Abbott (led) Opposition also committed to this Declaration,” said Mr Rajan.
The signed London Declaration requires parliamentarians to speak out against discrimination ‘directed against any minority, and guard against equivocation, hesitation and justification in the face of expressions of hatred.’ The London Declaration requires parliamentarians to ‘legislate effective Hate Crime legislation.’
Libertarian principles and its bent for sincere equality can only exist fully and flourish if those with influence, and those who are part of the majority and the monopolies do have the lawful capacity to diminish and extinguish minorities and their moral and lawful rights.