Turnbull’s changes to 18C have been tabled, but what do you think? We’ve asked both sides of the fence to give their perspective.
Yesterday, the Turnbull government made its proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, seeing the excision of words “insult” and “offend”. Despite opposition in the Senate, the greater issue rolls on. We know what those with the pens think, but what about you? Naturally, The Big Smoke has asked people who sit on both sides of the issue to share what they think of the move. Welcome to For/Against.
I’m not going to pretend racism doesn’t exist in Australia. It does. We’ve all seen it. However, I don’t think it rests on the shoulders of 18C. My issue is the amount of criticism levelled at the Government for these two small changes to a law which has filled column inches for months. You’d believe the sky will fall in, the seas will rise, if this precious legislation is changed one jot.
In the greater scheme of things, 18C does not matter. The racial problems in this country predate it, and will continue to exist long after it has spun out of the news cycle. Furthermore, the application of the law has been hard to figure. The closest moment of note is the Queensland University of Technology case, which was thrown out of court before attention was shifted over to Gillian Triggs for allowing it to progress so far. That situation was your typified lose-lose situation. The judge in question faced two equally terrible outcomes: excoriating the defendants, which could be seen as an attack on free speech, or throwing the case out, dragging everyone and the law through the very public mud.
My point is this: the application of the law is confusing, and bones of contention exist on a legal level, but that doesn’t matter to your average civilian. Freedom of speech is going to mean exactly that to the non-legally savvy public. Freedom of speech.
I do not believe that the changing of two words will change minds. Changes to 18C will not green-light racial discrimination. These thoughts still exist. If these changes put this issue to bed, so be it. Then we can move on to the root causes of the issue.
I remain astounded that white people continue to fight, and rabidly, as if their very lives depended upon it, for the right to offend and insult certain other groups. Granted, insult and offence are subjective concepts, however, Section 18C specifies that they must relate to the race, colour, national or ethnic origins and/or religion of the other person or people in the targeted group. Its ambit doesn’t cover general offence and insults such as you’re an arsehat-cockwomble, or your family is a bunch of loser thieving pisspots and always will be so fuck off you sad cunt.
It’s inarguable that Section 18C kerbs free speech. So do laws that make it an offence to use foul language in public places or to call police officers motherfucking shitgibbons when they’re attempting to restrain you, yet nobody is challenging these restrictions, or calling for the right to insult and offend passers-by and police officers in the name of free speech. Clearly, the ongoing uproar surrounding 18C is not about free speech: it is about being entitled to abuse others specifically according to their race, colour, national or ethnic origins and/or religions. Replacing offence and insult with harass does not help: indeed, it leaves potential victims even more vulnerable and with less hope of redress.
The only possible motive driving the desire to insult and offend under 18C is to cause harm. Pejorative commentary on the specified grounds can only ever be destructive and ill-intentioned. There is no upside to such commentary. Therefore, the more pressing question is not should 18C be removed or amended, but rather, why do those agitating for removal/amendment so desperately need to intentionally cause harm and destruction? Or, why are we even having this prolonged and intensely fraught conversation about whether or not some of us should be legally entitled to act with destructively bad intentions towards others on the basis of difference?
These questions seem far more serious, and in far more need of urgent address than 18C. I can see nothing to be gained, and a great deal that could be lost in removing or amending 18C, unless it is your life’s goal to abuse and humiliate those who are different from you – and if it is, you are the problem, not Section 18C.
Incidentally, we have no constitutional rights to free speech in this country:
The Australian Constitution does not explicitly protect freedom of expression. However, the High Court has held that an implied freedom of political communication exists as an indispensable part of the system of representative and responsible government created by the Constitution. It operates as a freedom from government restraint, rather than a right conferred directly on individuals.
If you are offended or insulted by the language I’ve used in this piece and also want 18C removed or amended on the grounds of free speech, well…
What do you think? Have your say below.