Tag Archives: Andrew Bolt

So they want to change 18c

8 Aug

Be Polite


Returned Senator David Leyonhjelm and new One Nation Senator Malcolm Roberts both want rid of section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Section 18c makes it illegal to carry out an act 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”.

There are those in both houses who support the removal or amendment of 18c, on the grounds that it collides with concepts of freedom of speech, though it’s slightly alarming to imagine what any of them want to say that requires the removal of 18c in order for them to be able to legally say it.

The section is a little over-written: a reasonable person can assume that if someone is humiliated or intimidated they have also been offended and insulted, and my understanding is that it is the words offend and insult that most aggravate the two senators.

Both Leyonhjelm and Roberts put forward the argument that offence is always taken, never given, and that each one of us has a choice as to whether or not we feel offended and insulted by the word or actions of another.

I find this notion particularly quaint coming from Senator Leyonhjelm: if indeed we can choose not to be offended and insulted, why does he so frequently choose to be angry and aggressive in reaction to others he feels have offended him? Especially on Twitter. He can get quite foul in that medium.

Leyonhjelm was apoplectic when The Chaser parked a van outside his house, and he threatened them with the police. Why did he choose that stressful and incendiary reaction if he’s in control of his feelings like he says we all should be?

Increasingly, this argument sounds like the justification of bullies for a perceived right to bully. I am tormenting you because I can, and you can choose not to be tormented so it’s your fault if you are.

What kind of person wants the right to behave like that towards another?

Of course it’s true that in theory no one can make us feel anything: we react and respond to others and those reactions and responses are influenced by all manner of prior experiences, and our degree of understanding of our own psychology.

Everyone is moulded by their individual experiences as well as by the social and economic systems in which we develop.  For example, if you suffer from, say, PTSD, you are less likely to be able to freely respond to distressing circumstances you encounter in the present, as one of effects of the illness is that it can make a present event indistinguishable from an event in a traumatic past.  Humans need models in our childhoods. We need to be able to learn how to choose our responses, this is not knowledge we acquire at birth. Some are taught better than others, some are not taught at all. The emotional life is by no means a level playing field, and saying we can all “choose’ not to be insulted or offended is like saying obesity is a choice, or poverty, or that we can all be millionaires if we only choose to.

Roberts and Leyonhjelm can take no credit for having being born white with the advantages that whiteness can bring, equally, those of ethnicities, race, colour and nationality that are frequently subject to hate speech had no choice in the matter of their birth either.

We are not islands: we are affected by others and we affect others. Leyonhjelm and Roberts’ argument is the equivalent of Margaret Thatcher’s belief that there is no society, there’s only individuals.

The question is not whether people should learn to be immune to feeling hurt and insulted when kicked by a donkey, but why do we tolerate donkeys who feel compelled to kick in the first place? The indigenous men and woman who took Andrew Bolt to court won their case, but Andrew Bolt has yet to adequately explain why he felt compelled to question their validity as people of colour.

This latter question would seem to me to be far more serious, and far more in need of urgent address than the removal or amendment of 18c. Why do these people want to amend or remove 18c? What will be gained from its removal, and who will profit?

I can see nothing to be gained, and a great deal that could be lost, unless it is your life goal to abuse those who are different from you, and if it is, you are the problem, not Section 18c.

By the way, we don’t actually have any 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 indispensible 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. 






Why rights and bigots do not belong in the same sentence.

20 Jul


talking arse


When Attorney-General George Brandis declared that everyone has the right to be a bigot, he was, strangely for him, speaking out of his arse.

A bigot is irrationally prejudiced against and intolerant towards individuals and/or groups, without requiring any factual evidence to support her or his bigotry. This excellent Guardian piece by Susan Carland spells out the proposition. My only quibble with Dr Carland is that she writes “facts no longer matter” whereas I would argue that for bigots, facts have never mattered, and never will.

Brandis’s declaration conflates human rights with ignorance, intolerance and irrational prejudice, surely the very characteristics those rights are designed to contest, how odd he doesn’t know that.

When the country’s Attorney-General invites the indulgence and expression of bigotry it’s hardly surprising that we find ourselves entering a period of deep prejudice, expressed by the likes of convicted racist Andrew Bolt, echoed by the likes of television celebrity mother Sonia Kruger (#all mothers are celebrities, I can see that hash tag coming) and Pauline Hanson is enabled to replatform herself in government.

This time around, the bigots are singling out Muslims. It has in the past been the turn of Aborigines, Jews, Chinese, Vietnamese, Indians, single mothers of all nationalities, dole bludgers, those of Middle Eastern appearance, boat people, women… must I go on? Bigots aren’t choosy: they need to hate somebody, it doesn’t much matter who. You have the “right” to do this, says the most senior legal figure in the land. It’s freedom of speech. So knock yourselves out.

Unfortunately, the exercise of free speech does not have as a prerequisite informed and intelligent utterance. If it did there would be a strangled silence from the government benches and all early morning television shows would cease to be.

As this happy fantasy is not likely to eventuate, what are we to do in the face of the ignorant, prejudiced drivel increasingly issuing forth from public microphones? Fight back?  March in protest? Invite consultation? Sit down with the haters over  tea and scones? Ignore them?

I’d argue that there’s no single solution to contesting bigotry, and that all of the above suggestions might be useful in specific situations. When the citizens of a democracy vote bigots into government it’s a tough challenge fighting them from the top down, and we have to get creative. Psychologically speaking, bigots are generally insecure personalities with low self-esteem: they make themselves feel better by denigrating somebody else: I am not that, therefore I am OK. Those of us opposing bigotry may risk falling into the same trap…it’s complicated.

Ignorance is in ascendence, globally. It’s going to be turbulent. As I think the Dalai Llama [sic] once said, you don’t get peace by hating war. Fasten your seat belts.





Bishop stays. Goodes goes. Abbott is silent. What is wrong with this picture?

31 Jul



In case you are still in any doubt about what matters and what doesn’t to the Anglo-Saxon hegemony think on this: white Speaker of the House of Representatives and Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s personal pick Bronwyn Bishop remains in charge of the House, in spite of decades of financial abuse of taxpayer funds, the obscene details of which are unfolding daily before our disbelieving eyes. The only thing that keeps her in her job is Abbott’s support, because while the Prime Minister cannot actually sack a Speaker, there’s little doubt that if Abbott pressured her to get on her bike, she’d be mad not to obey.

On the other hand, Indigenous football star and Australian of the Year Adam Goodes has been driven from his sport and public life by unrelenting racist attacks every time he shows his face. Goodes’ reaction to a thirteen-year-old girl calling him an ape has been held up by the racist commentariat such as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt as being the reason footy crowds have taken such a set against him. However, it seems to have escaped the commentators’ collective memory that it was in fact the illustrious Eddie Maguire who at the same time called Goodes “King Kong.”

What also seems to have escaped their racist filter is that Goodes did not know at the time that a young girl was responsible for calling him an ape, and when he did become aware of this he handled the situation admirably, meeting with the girl and her mother, and engaging them  in conversation about the wounding and divisive nature of racist insults.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott, normally a man with an opinion on everything no matter how irrelevant, remains conspicuously silent on both matters. Ms Bishop’s shenanigans with helicopters and luxury limos have left rotten egg splattered all over Tony’s face, an ungracious response on her part to the man who, when he won government, rewarded her with the prestigious job of Speaker. Getting rid of Bronwyn will cause Tony to lose egg-splattered face, as it will be an admission of his lack of judgement of a woman he’s known for decades, and indeed, has been heard to refer to as his “political mother.”

But as Freud would have it, an adult man must at some point cut ties with his mother, and this could be Tony’s moment to sever the umbilical cord.

Abbott apparently can’t say anything on the Goodes’ matter either, given his demographic is fundamentally xenophobic and racist, and he can’t risk alienating them. While the country engages in a national conversation about racism, our leader remains unacceptably silent, missing in action. While the indignation and outrage at Bishop’s fraudulent behaviour escalates, our leader remains silent, missing in action. The number of topics Abbott can publicly engage with seems to be shrinking daily: he certainly seems incapable of entering into the energetic debates that will shape and reshape our nation in a most concrete fashion. In other words, he’s useless.

Ideology can do that to a man. Render him useless.




The question for Good Friday: What is truth?

3 Apr


orwell truth

Yesterday, human rights lawyer George Newhouse won his defamation case against News Corp blogger Andrew Bolt. A confidential settlement was reached, with News Corp paying Newhouse’s costs:

Justice McCallum found the five defamatory imputations pleaded by Mr Newhouse were capable of arising. These included that Mr Newhouse “has fraudulently represented to the public that people whom he represents are refugees when they are not”; that he “lied to the High Court”; that he is “motivated by deceit” and that he has “acted immorally”. 

In 2011, Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act with a blog in which he’d implied that light-skinned people who identified as Aboriginal did so for personal gain. 

In 2002, magistrate Jelena Popovic was awarded $246,000 damages for defamation after suing Bolt and the publishers of the Herald Sun over a 13 December 2000 column in which he claimed that she had “hugged two drug traffickers she let walk free.”

Obviously, Bolt is in the business of mischief-making, as is his employer. There is a certain satisfaction in witnessing this activity come back to bite them both, however, Bolt’s narrative genre, bereft as it is of truth or any pretence at interest in it, is a vehicle for the conservative ideology that is currently struggling for control of western democracies.

Bolt’s blogs largely consist of great swathes of unsubstantiated personal opinion, that if subjected to a moment’s elementary Socratic interrogation would disintegrate into dust. The only way to deal with the man is to haul him before appropriate courts, an option open to very few. The cost to News Corp is little in the scheme of things, and is no doubt outweighed by the talent the man has for rousing ugly public opinion that favours conservative prejudices.

In conservative politics and in the media that support the ideology, truth long ago exited stage left and won’t be coming back. Prime Minister Tony Abbott boasts of his own dodgy relationship with the truth, and the ABC’s “Promise Tracker” records the number of pre-election assurances by the coalition that have been broken since Abbott assumed power.

Does truth matter? It would seem we’re in an era of norm renegotiation: at one time in our social evolution a man’s [sic] word was all that was required, and any man who broke his word was ostracised and shamed for it. We have apparently devolved to a state in which the leader of our liberal democracy can quite cheerfully say whatever he likes at any particular moment, then blame his audience for being daft enough to believe him.

On Good Friday, the day on which Christians such as Prime Minister Abbott grieve the death of their Christ, it seems appropriate to recall Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who handed Jesus over for execution by literally and symbolically washing his hands of the whole ghastly affair and asking, rhetorically, Quid est verities? What is truth?

Prejudice, arrogance, entitlement and ideology have triumphed over truth in Australian political discourse. Truth is now regarded with the same jaundiced mocking eye as is compassion. It matters not if Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott spin narratives bereft of truth, populated with stereotypes, peppered with clichés. Truth is crucified. Ideology rules. OK?






The arbiters of taste: who will control society?

14 Jan



In his blog for The Monthly on the Charlie Hebdo massacre, Mungo McCallum concludes his Readers’ Digest argument that laughter is the best medicine by observing that even those wielding automatic weapons can’t fire them if they’re doubled over with mirth.  “After all,” he writes, “even the most rabid fanatic would find it hard to aim a Kalashnikov while guffawing.”

McCallum’s piece is about the lines that are or should be drawn between satire, humour, and offence, but what he fails to address is who exactly is to determine those limits, and what criteria they are to employ in order to arrive at their judgement.

This is another aspect of the battle for societal control so relentlessly fought by groups such as Collective Shout and individuals such as Melinda Tankard Reist, with whom I have locked horns on more than one occasion. See the Category Defamation Threats on this blog if you want to know just how hard these people will go after you in an effort to shut you up and impose their views.

I know people who find Seinfeld cruel and unfunny. I know others who find The Simpsons offensive to their sacred notions of family. I’ve heard arguments that the HBO series Breaking Bad, in which a regular high school chemistry teacher morphs into a drug lord after learning he has terminal cancer, has led to an epidemic in the manufacturing of methamphetamines. I find McCallum’s line quoted above offensive in its casual dismissal of the profound seriousness of rabid fanaticism. I don’t find it satirical or humorous, and I suspect it could only have been written by someone who has little first-hand knowledge of any kind of terror.

The point is, something will always offend someone. There are those who are outraged because every cliff top in the country is not fenced off to protect us from falling over it and sustaining injury, or death. There are those who want to kill every shark in the ocean because now and then one of them eats someone. There are those who believe being hurt and offended is so great an injury laws can and should be passed to prevent their emotional distress.

There are those who take out their Kalashnikovs because they believe being insulted and offended are justifications for murder. There’s very little that can be done about someone with that particular mindset, and if all other provocations are denied them through censorship of potentially provocative commentary they will still kill, on the spurious grounds that an entire mode of existence is offensive to them and it’s their right to eradicate it.

The fight for the power to wield societal control is constant, and it takes a myriad of forms. In general, our liberal democracy is controlled by the values of the bourgeoisie who are, also in general, obsessed with issues of law and order, affronted by graffiti, entirely precious about their right not to be offended, insulted or otherwise emotionally ruffled, and consumed by notions of decency and what they determine to be appropriate. Look at our politicians if you don’t believe me.

There is no doubt that words can damage. Vilification of any kind causes hurt and damage and destruction. Rather than impose legislation that seeks to prevent and punish the utterance of damaging and destructive words, satirical commentary, unfair criticism, racial and religious abuse, I would prefer that we instead focus our attention and resources on education and remediation. I think this because largely legislation has no effect at all in everyday situations, and in many instances can make resentment against the other, whoever the other happens to be at any particular time, even worse.

In my opinion, legalisation that seeks to control who can say what, when and where is driven by bourgeois desires to exercise social control and create a perceived utopian culture in which proponents of bourgeois ideology feel most “comfortable.” While the bourgeoisie have not yet resorted to firearms with which to impose their vision of the world, they have instead demanded a level of surveillance and state control over language and how it may and may not be used that is astounding.

While I do not agree with Attorney-General George Brandis that everyone has the “right” (whatever “right” means in his context) to be a bigot, it seems to me that legislation attempting to prevent the expression of bigotry is doomed to fail, except in very rare high-profile situations.

The battle for societal control will not be won by silencing. It is a wrong-headed and prejudicial battle in the first place. We cannot, for example, silence the Murdoch press and even if Andrew Bolt came a cropper with his racist views what was gained in the larger sense by his stumble? He hasn’t shut up, he’s just as offensive, if not more so, and he gained an inordinate amount of support and sympathy. In general, his name is remembered as a consequence of those events, and not the names of those vilified and insulted, or the nature of the vilification and insult.

I know from my own experience of being threatened with legal action if I didn’t retract and shut up that it only made me more determined to express views I believed to be worthy of expression and that I had the right to express, because why shouldn’t I? My views were extremely offensive and insulting to some. So what? Theirs were equally offensive and insulting to me. Neither of us should have been silenced, and only one party (not me) had the financial wherewithal to threaten the other with silence or ruin.

What we need to do is think about is what can be done that will actually achieve fundamental change, instead of focusing on window dressing and  band aids that at best do nothing and at worst incite those who are silenced by legislation to even more devious expressions and behaviours.

McCallum is wrong, laughter is certainly not the best medicine when faced with a Kalashnikov, or being otherwise silenced by punitive measures employed by the state at the behest of the hegemonic bourgeoisie.

The best medicine is to resist and refuse efforts to silence, to be subversive, to transgress, to contest, to challenge, to protest, to be civilly disobedient, to refuse to be shut up by those who are “uncomfortable” with certain forms of expression. Your discomfort is not my problem, tell them. It’s yours. I’m sorry you feel it, but there are ways you can deal with it if you have the courage, and silencing me is not one of them.

I laughed my head off, said someone taken hostage by murderous ideologues never.



Freedom to speak badly: one rule for protestors, another for Bolt?

24 Mar
Bad Manners Are Unedifying

Bad Manners Are Unedifying


Peter van Onselen devotes almost an entire page in the Australian this morning (paywalled, sorry) to complaining about the “unedifying” display of bad manners by some protestors who took part in the March in March rallies, comparing them with the infamously abusive banners held aloft by the three hundred or so activists who took part Alan Jones’s 2011 Convoy of no Confidence against Julia Gillard and her Labour government.

I would appreciate someone drawing up a comparison of the two situations, given my impression that the number of participants in the Jones rally carrying offensive placards constituted a far greater percentage of the whole than those in the March in March rallies.

As van Onselen concedes, in the Jones protest virulent expressions of rage and hatred were legitimised by the presence of leading politicians photographed under the placards. No such validation took place of the relatively few offensive banners on display during March in March.

“Calling a conservative a fascist and portraying his image to replicate Hitler is deliberately designed to undermine their ideological positioning in the same way that calling a woman a ‘bitch’ or ‘witch’ carries clear sexist intent,”  van Onselen states, in his comparison of the two situations.

I would not so readily presume an equivalence between sexist intent, and the desire to critique, albeit with a degree of hyperbole, an ideology. Sexism attacks the woman for nothing other than being a woman. Describing Abbott as “fascist” in no way attacks his gender, and is merely commentary on the manner in which he is perceived to enact his conservatism.

Placards claiming that the Abbott government is “illegitimate” are not abusive, offensive or threatening, rather they are simply wrong, and likely being employed as payback for the years of the LNP opposition equally inaccurately describing the Gillard government as “illegitimate.” What is apparent is that there are hot heads and wrong heads on both the conservative and Labor side of politics. This should not come as a surprise to anyone.

Along with Tim Wilson, Human Rights Commissioner for Freedom, (I’m sorry, I don’t know what that title means) van Onselen is disturbed not at the exercise of freedom of speech demonstrated by both rallies, but at the ill-mannered, impolite, potentially violent and “irresponsible” speech used by a small number of participants in their signage. A similar rabid element is guilty of foully derailing many otherwise useful Twitter discussions, claims van Onselen, quite rightly in some instances, though there are sensitive souls renowned for “rage quitting” Twitter when they confuse disagreement with abuse.

Van Onselen and Wilson’s desire to see public speech free from offensive, insulting and at times threatening expression is shared by many people, but quite how to achieve that remains a mystery. Bad speech must be countered by good speech, Wilson has asserted, however, taking the case of Andrew Bolt as an example, it’s difficult to see how someone with a large public platform such as Bolt, or fellow shock jocks Alan Jones, or Ray Hadley can be challenged by the people they offend and insult, who rarely have an equivalent public platform from which to counter their attacker’s bad speech with good. It is for this reason we have legislation intended to protect people from racial vilification, for example, the very legislation Mr Wilson is now intent on seeing repealed, as he believes it interferes with the absolute freedom of speech he appears to favour.

I can see Wilson’s point, however, as long as there are more powerful enunciators of bad speech with large platforms than there are good, perhaps we need other precautionary measures.

I couldn’t help but wonder, as I read the article, what van Onselen and Wilson would make of public demonstrations in other countries, Mexico perhaps, where I witnessed protests in which politicians were represented by enormous papier-mache figures with grossly exaggerated sexual organs, accompanied by banners that claimed they fucked both dogs and their mothers and ate children. Nobody saw any cause for offence. Compared to such robust expression, the complaints seem rather prim.

Amusingly, van Onselen concludes his article with the reminder that “Protest is as an important part of democracy as are institutions designed to uphold democracy, but only when practised within the spirit of Australia’s well established political structure.” I am completely unable to see how any of the offensive signage fails to fit in with that spirit. Australian politics have, for the last few years and most certainly during Gillard’s entire term of office, been such that one would think twice before taking school children to witness Question Time, and I really don’t know who van Onselen thinks he is kidding.

The ongoing discourse about how we should conduct our discourse is unlikely to change anything. Van Onselen’s piece appears to make the claim that those who offend middle-class sensitivities undermine the more moderate message and concerns of mainstream protestors, and destroy their credibility. This may well be the case, but only because people such as van Onselen make it so, opportunistically denigrating the whole on the basis of the actions of a very few.

It is not possible to eradicate voices some consider undesirable from public expression. Otherwise we would not have to put up with the Bolts. A sign held aloft at a demonstration cannot do one tiny fraction of the harm done by Bolt, Jones and the like. If we are to conduct serious conversations about how public discourse influences attitudes and behaviours, surely we must start by interrogating the enunciations of those with the furthest reach.

Scott Morrison. Racism. The facts.

14 Jun

Racism: (just to refresh our memories)

1. the belief that human races have distinctive characteristics which determine their respective cultures, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule or dominate the others.

2. offensive or aggressive behaviour to members of another race stemming from such a belief.

3. a policy or system of government and society based upon it. (Macquarie Dictionary)

Morrison sees votes in anti-Muslim strategy. The opposition immigration spokesman, Scott Morrison, urged the shadow cabinet to capitalise on the electorate’s growing concerns about “Muslim immigration”, “Muslims in Australia” and the “inability” of Muslim migrants to integrate…But after Mr Morrison’s comments this week on the cost of asylum-seeker funerals and his role in the controversial decision to cut a Howard government program to fund schools in Indonesia, colleagues are privately questioning whether he is trying to pursue an anti-Muslim political strategy unilaterallysources say Mr Ruddock, the shadow cabinet secretary, was particularly “blunt” in his rejection of the suggestion, saying a well-run and non-discriminatory immigration policy was essential for nation building.
Lenore Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald, February 17 2011. [emphasis mine]

Ugly game of race baiting. Morrison decided to see if he could win some political points by inflaming racism and resentment. More specifically, he zeroed in on some of the most vulnerable people in the country for political advantage.

Morrison publicly raised objections to the government’s decision to pay for air fares for some of the survivors of the Christmas Island boat wreck to travel to Sydney for the funerals of their relatives.

Some were Christian funerals, others were Muslim. But all of them were foreigners, all of them were boat people, all of them were dark-skinned, and to Morrison that made them all fair game. Peter Hartcher, SMH, February 19 2011.

From the blog of well-known free speech advocate Andrew Bolt comes this quote from ABC journalist Stephen Long. I am obliged to reference Mr Bolt’s blog because it appears the ABC have removed this episode of The Drum Online from their website. Mr Long was a panellist on The Drum earlier this week. Along with other panellists he was invited to express his opinion on various topical issues. With reference to the Coalition’s recent comments on immigration policy, Mr Long observed:

I think that it is a cynical manipulation of an underlying prejudice in the Australian community and that it has very little policy merit. It is fraught with problems and it is really awful actually and I think Scott Morrison in particular as a spokesman in this area has just pushed way beyond acceptability in a way that he is willing to pander and manipulate that level of prejudice in what is essentially a racist manner. He is my local member in the electorate for Cronulla, the scene of the Cronulla riots …

Mr Long’s opinion was consistent with that of some of Mr Morrison’s political colleagues, and other journalists. However, Mr Morrison demanded an apology from the ABC for Mr Long’s remarks. The ABC aquiesced, and the apology was delivered on air yesterday evening by the show’s host, Steve Cannane.

This leads me to wonder why it is acceptable to describe someone as “pursuing an anti Muslim strategy unilaterally” but unacceptable to describe that activity as “racist” (refer to definition of racism above). Perhaps there is a way of pursuing an anti Muslim strategy unilaterally that is not racist? Perhaps the activity is indeed racist (check definition again) but under no circumstances are we allowed to say so?

Colour me confused.

On his website Mr Morrison, who is a member of the Assemblies of God Pentecostal Church, writes: “My Christian faith remains the driving force for my family, beliefs and values.”

Note to commenters: As Mr Morrison appears to be sensitive at the moment and may even incline towards litigation, please take care not to leave any comments that might be construed as defamatory.

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