Tag Archives: Section 18C

Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity.

18 Nov

 

rights

 

It’s becoming rather tiring, listening to privileged people with large platforms complain that their freedom of speech is being denied, and we have to get rid of anti discrimination laws that allegedly silence them.

As far as I can tell such people are incapable of dealing with criticism of their speech, and are unable to distinguish between that criticism, and the oppression of silencing. Criticism is not denial of free speech. It’s criticism. I don’t think they know this, which is surprising.

Neither are you being “silenced” if you don’t have the guts to speak. That’s not denial of free speech, it’s lack of courage. The “I can’t say anything because of political correctness” whine is an admission of cowardice.

“Stop political correctness” actually means, “make the world absolutely safe for me to say whatever I like without fear of criticism” which is in itself interesting, because the “stop political correctness” cohort also seems to oppose the idea of safe spaces for people who might actually need them.

The complaint of denial of freedom of speech currently emanates overwhelmingly from those incapable of tolerating a challenge: they wish to engage in bigotry without anyone calling them on it. Somewhere, in one of their developmental stages, somebody hurt them by giving them critical feedback for bad work and they never got over it.

Apart from all that, it is rather ludicrous when someone with a platform regularly provided and paid for by Newscorpse et al (not to mention those privileged by their presence in parliament) complains they have no freedom to speak. Cowards, every one.

There were mixed reactions when the Human Rights Commission dropped its inquiry into the Australian’s cartoonist, Bill Leak, after complaints were lodged against him under the now infamous Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

I found the cartoon under scrutiny (you can see it in the first link) obnoxious, an expression of white paternalism, privilege and assumed supremacy. I also believed the complaint would fail under the exemptions permitted by Section 18D, and I can’t see how that potential failure could do anything to further the cause of those racially humiliated by Leak in his cartoon, not for the first time or the last, I might add.

Freedom of speech is a fundamental human right, without which many other rights collapse. We also live in a country in which it is regrettably necessary to have a Racial Discrimination Act, because we are racist, and because the concept of freedom of speech is frequently abused to justify racially motivated attacks.

The two are not always compatible. Section 18C is perceived by some as a threat to free speech or, as Attorney-General George Brandis so memorably put it, the freedom to be a bigot. However, nobody is prevented or can be prevented from being a bigot: they just need to be aware that there may be consequences,  just as there are consequences, positive and negative, for every other choice we make.

I’d prefer to see the words “offend and insult” in 18C changed to “vilify.” I think it’s extremely difficult to make laws about offending and insulting: vilification is far more specific and contains within it the notions of offence and insult. Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs is not opposed to rewording the Section.

The concept of freedom of speech is in danger of becoming grotesquely distorted by those who have no need at all to be protected from the loss of it. But this is the neo liberal way: co-opt the safeguards put in place to protect people from vilification and exploitation, and frame yourself as the victim. Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity in the new world order. Oh, yeah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Why do 13 coalition backbenchers need to racially offend & insult?

30 Aug

 

EighteenC

 

Today, the first sitting day of a new parliament, thirteen, yes thirteen coalition backbenchers defied their Prime Minister and called for an amendment to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that would see the words “insult” and “offend” removed.

Thirteen white Liberal backbenchers want to be legally permitted to racially offend and insult. So desperately do they want this that they have defied their Prime Minister and their Attorney-General, both of whom undertook to leave Section 18C as it is, and went to the election with this undertaking.

These thirteen backbenchers are fighting for the right to offend and insult specifically on the basis of race and ethnicity. They aren’t fighting for the right to offend and insult in general: that right isn’t under threat. They want to racially offend and insult. They are fighting to racially offend and insult. They are risking the cohesion of their party in order to be able to racially offend and insult.

Think about that.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

 

 

 

Freedom to speak. Section 18C and terrorism

13 Jan

 

voltaire-quote1

 

I find myself in a familiar turmoil over the issue of free speech, raised again most recently by the Charlie Hebdo massacres. Those lives were not lost because of the exercise of freedom of speech. They were lost because violent, brutal ideologues murdered them. The lives lost in the 9/11 attacks had nothing to do with the exercise of free speech. Thousands upon thousands upon thousands  of civilian lives lost in wars waged by western powers were not lost because the victims were exercising freedom of speech.

While I abhor the dehumanising stereotyping that is at the heart of hate speech and racial vilification, murderers are responsible for murdering and those ideologues determined to murder will do so, and they will find any reason to justify their thirst for destruction. It is ludicrous to claim that offence and insult are provocation enough to incite them, and that attempting to restrict offence and insult will do anything at all to restrain their murderous impulses.

Race is a construct, used to justify ill-treatment and dehumanisation of those not in the dominant tribe. Religion is a construct, also used to justify ill-treatment and dehumanisation of those not of the dominant belief system. Race and religion are equally illusionary, that is, they are human constructs that have come to be reified as monolithic truths for which people are willing to kill and to die. Section 18c of The Racial Discrimination Act will not affect these monolithic truths, and the willingness of their adherents to murder and die for them.

The human species has not yet evolved out of its need to gather in tribes of one kind or another, and take arms against those they define as not of them. Restricting free speech does nothing to address these fundamental problems.  In many situations it serves to exacerbate division, for example in defamation legislation that inevitably favours those with wealth and power over those with none.

There have always been and will always be extremists and radicals. We can no more expect to live free of the threat of terrorism than we can expect to live without the air that we breathe.

In the end, nothing will be as effective against terrorism as the freedom to speak, even if that speech is offensive and insulting. Those of us who aren’t murderous extremists must learn to deal with speech that insults and offends us because the option, a mass silencing,a mass surveillance of thought, word and deed is far too horrific to contemplate. There is no human right not to be offended. A life without insult is a sheltered life indeed. It is a serious loss to Australian society that a magazine such as Charlie Hebdo could not be published in this country. If you don’t like it, don’t read it, but to make it illegal is unacceptable.

What is wrong with us is that we do not regularly mobilise as did the French in Paris yesterday, visibly united against terrorist attacks. What is wrong with us is that we have become too precious, too willing to allow governments to take responsibility for us in legislation that is and can be little more than a band-aid. Over-protection weakens and infantilises us, and causes us to give up our power to those who would control us, whether they are elected governments or murderous extremists.

Terrorism, and political and governmental reaction to it is spectacle, and it is the same, shared spectacle. It is bad theatre. It is full of sound and fury, signifying nothing and it will not save us from death and destruction, metaphorical and literal, by those who would silence us.

 

Update: This is the piece on Charlie Hebdo being published in Australia, to which I attempted to link in The Australian and was initially foiled. Suck it up, Rupert.

 

Being Charlie — with 18c in place, Australia says ‘non’

 

Charlie Hebdo from October 2014.

SATIRICAL French publication Charlie Hebdo could not be printed in Australia under existing restrictions on free speech, despite its cartoons being embraced across the world as a symbol of Western liberties after the massacre at its offices.

Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson told The Australian the restrictions contained in section 18c of the Racial Discrimin­ation Act would “ensure it would be shut down”; he was supported in this position by media law ­experts.

The carnage in Paris has also encouraged two Liberal MPs to publicly call for the debate about changes to section 18c to be re-opened after the government last year unceremoniously dropped its planned reforms following a fierce public backlash.

Mr Wilson, dubbed the “freedom commissioner”, has taken aim at opponents of the 18c changes who are now rhetorically embracing free speech, warning that words needed to be backed up with concrete action.

Failure to do so would be seen as hypocritical, he said.

“The Charlie Hebdo attack is a wake-up call for a lot of people who rhetorically support free speech but when it comes to the nub would choose political ­advantage over sensible reform,” he said.

“This is where they have an opportunity to rise to the challenge, like the leaders of Europe are now doing, rather than being held out as hypocrites.”

In The Australian today, the chairman of the parliamentary joint committee on human rights, West Australian senator Dean Smith, challenges Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten to support a private senator’s bill proposing a middle pathway forward on an 18c overhaul.

The Opposition Leader yesterday indicated he remained unmoved on 18c.

“You don’t give the green light to hate speech when in fact it’s hate which is what we’re all ­united against,” he said.

Mr Shorten said it was distasteful to turn the events in Paris into a domestic political issue. “It is an inappropriate stretch … to see government MPs trying to use what happened in Paris to justify divisive debates.”

The government has formally ruled out any changes to 18c, saying they are “off the table”.

While Mr Wilson argued that many of the religiously themed cartoons in Charlie Hebdo would not fall foul of the discrimination act, he said that racial stereo­typing of Jews and other ethnic groups would create too many legal issues for such a publication to continue in an Australian context.

“18c only covers issues of race and ethnic origin, which would cover some of the material but not all of it,” he said. “It would cover Jews and ethnic representations, but it wouldn’t cover Muslims and other bits. In the end, the legal problems would essentially ensure it would be shut down.

“I think there are lots of different avenues for reform, but I think there are more issues than just 18c that need to be considered.”

Senator Smith threw his support behind Mr Wilson, but urged for a renewed focus on 18c. He is urging both sides of politics to back a private senator’s bill he has co-sponsored with Family First senator Bob Day, Liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm and Liberal colleague Cory Bernardi.

Senator Smith says the bill could form a “legislative monument to the human price paid by France” and would simply remove the words “offend” and “insult” in a finetuning of 18c.

“By agreeing (to the bill) … Tony Abbott and Bill Shorten will have kept the protections against ­‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’,” he writes. “Our leaders have read the mood with precision and Tony Abbott is right to remind us to be prepared to ‘speak up for our ­beliefs’ and ‘call things as we see them’. It is now time to crown our words of vigilance with a deed.”

Senator Bernardi said he absolutely supported the passage of the bill.

Simon Breheny, the director of the legal rights project at the Institute of Public Affairs, told The Australian that Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons certainly “would have been caught in Australia by section 18c of the Racial Discrimin­ation Act”.

“Even if it wasn’t caught by section 18c, there is no doubt they would have fallen foul of restrictive state racial and religious vilification laws. This is one of the possible explanations as to why we don’t have any kind of publi­cations in Australia quite like it, because our laws restricting freedom of speech are so severe.”

Legal experts also united to suggest that Charlie Hebdo would be unlikely to meet the existing tests enshrined in current Australian law, pointing out that satirical cartoons do not occupy the same status in Australian culture.

“You would have a complaint if those sorts of cartoons were to run here,” said Minter Ellison Partner and Fairfax media lawyer in Victoria Peter Bartlett.

“I think they would certainly, run up against 18c and we would receive complaints and we would then need to deal with those ­complaints.”

Mr Bartlett also warned that there was already “some evidence of self-censoring”, given the ­caution around the existing racial discrimination laws.

Justin Quill, a media lawyer used by The Australian, said the publication would have “serious difficulties” and would constantly need to justify its actions. “If someone took action against them — probably more than once — it ultimately would mean that it would be difficult to survive and it could mean it had to be shut down,” he said.

“I can easily say I think there would be occasions where it would lose an 18c argument.

“It’s easy for those who support 18c to say ‘I think they wouldn’t’. What is clear is that the publication would have to successfully bear the onus of proof in proving their defence.”

Charlie Hebdo cover depicting Jesus on the cross.

 

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