Brandis will rip heart out of Racial Discrimination Act

Excerpt from an interview with Senator Brandis on Lateline March 25, 2014

Emma Alberici: The judge (Justice Bromberg) concluded that the case (against Andrew Bolt) was not about freedom of opinion, it was about freedom to spread untruths. Are you saying that freedom should exist?

Senator George Brandis: Yes I am.

(See the full interview on the ABC website)

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Attorney General Senator Brandis wants to remove the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” from Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The section currently reads:

It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

This has become a talking point because columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act in 2011 after claiming that light-skinned Aboriginals used their heritage for personal gain.

I think it is safe to say that Bolt’s feelings were hurt.

It’s now 2014.

That’s a long time to have hurt feelings.

People are “allowed to be bigots”, Senator Brandis has said. That’s true. People are most definitely allowed to be bigots. But being a bigot and having license via legislation to racially slur other people are two different things.

Rights and freedoms should not be about what you are allowed to do. Rights should be about what you are free from. We should enjoy the right to be free from violence, exploitation and discrimination in all its forms; racial, sexual, religious, etc.

But by Senator Brandis’ reckoning, people should be allowed to say what they like, even if someone might be “hurt” by what others have to say. It is fair to say that Brandis’ comment illustrates that sometimes there are going to be losers in the quest for freedom of speech.

Why couldn’t Senator Brandis accept and perhaps advise Andrew Bolt to just deal with his hurt feelings instead of going to great lengths to change a section in the Racial Discrimination Act that has been in place for almost 20 years? Especially since Bolt himself did not appeal the judgement he received?

How does changing this section of the act in any way advance our society? We are not gagged at the moment. The public outcry to the proposed changes is testament to that. We are taught to respect and possibly think about what we are saying before we shoot from the hip. This is what promotes empathy. This is what makes a civil society.

Bolt’s original article was a comedy of errors and has been proven so. This simply illustrates that his original hypothesis about light-skinned Aboriginals is incorrect, and yet I’m assuming that Bolt is still standing by it.

But he can’t just keep saying it because he can’t prove it.

And if he can’t prove it how can he go around saying it without getting in trouble with the law?

Bolt wants the right to say it and Senator Brandis wants to allow him to say it, irrespective of whether he is right or wrong.

And the question once again comes back to, what’s the gain?

I don’t understand how Bolt being proven to have written falsehoods about Indigenous Australians and being reprimanded for his inaccuracies is such a miscarriage of justice.

The issue here is bigger than Andrew Bolt. People in the media have a powerful, multi-pronged platform from which to voice their opinions. And, at least in my opinion, high-profile media personalities have a responsibility in setting the tone of society; in fact, we all do, every one of us.

We teach our children to not tease others and call each other names. We set boundaries and rules our children must follow so they can learn how to get along with one another in a functioning society. How is this going to play out in our school playgrounds? Where do you think children get their cues?

People from minority groups don’t have access to the same resources as some of our biggest name journalists and opinion writers to express their views – the playing field is not level.

And why protect people like Bolt when he clearly has a platform to express a concern? He certainly used this same platform to illicit an apology from Marcia Langdon after her appearance on Q&A.

For those who don’t have access to this sort of platform, where will the opportunities present themselves for any sort of recourse if not through a legal framework?

A friend of mine pointed out to me that those with the deepest pockets tend to be able to afford better legal representation, so perhaps the courtroom isn’t entirely a level playing field either?

There is some truth to that.

But at the very least, if the laws of a country stipulate that its citizens cannot discriminate, cannot say what they please without some consequence and cannot say what they please without some proof of their opinion being true, there is some real chance that society can be free from discrimination.

Under Brandis’ proposal, what kind of moral framework is the Abbott government setting up here?

By changing this law, Brandis and the government he is a part of (except for some Coalition MP’s, such as Jamie Briggs, who have threatened to cross the floor when the bill is voted on in the House Of Reps) are in effect saying that Andrew Bolt’s feelings mean more than the feelings of an entire minority group he chose to judge.

Is this the kind of country we want to live in?

 

Get active in this debate and review the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and submit your views to the Attorney General.

 

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