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Hate Speech Is Not Free Speech!

After proposing then abandoning a raft of manifestly unpopular changes to section 18C of Australia’s racial vilification laws last year, certain members of the LNP have recently relaunched their attack on 18C, under the rather disingenuous pretext of championing free speech.

In the wake of the Charlie Hedbo attacks Cory Bernardi has been out there again, calling for the LNP’s precious 18C amendments to be put back on the table.

Like pit bulls with lock jaw, a gang of radical right wing MP’s including Cory Bernardi, George Brandis, Dean Smith, liberal Democrat David Leyonhjelm, and Family First’s Bob Day have been lobbying hard to ensure we Aussies have the right to engage in hate speech.

Just for clarity, lets take a closer look at what it is they want to change. Specifically they want to have the words “offend, insult and humiliate” removed from the act.


Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin

(1) 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.

So in effect what they are proposing is that it would just fine to PUBLICLY “offend, insult and humiliate” someone based on their race, colour or national or ethnic origin, so long as you don’t “intimidate” them.

I think it’s fairly safe to say that most people would find public insult and humiliation somewhat intimidating; so we can assume that the interpretation to be given to the word “intimidate” under the proposed amendments would be “to directly physically threaten”, rather than “to emotionally threaten”.

If these changes were ushered in then theoretically it would be OK if I were to call Tony Abbott filthy, unwashed, lazy, whinging, snaggle toothed, imperialist, stuck up, limey British scum? And that would be totally OK, because I am all I am doing is using racial stereotypes to abuse him, but I am not actually threatening to do him any harm. Of course the truth is that most British people work hard, wash regularly, visit dentists, aren’t seeking to expand their empire, and complain in relatively appropriate measure..:-), but hey why let the truth get in the way of good story.


Unfortunately what these right wing warriors are failing to understand is that the Racial Discrimination Act is not really about protecting the feelings of “white people”. It was drafted in the knowledge that there are ethnic groups in this country that really suffer as a result of constant racial abuse and the negative stereo types that such abuse fosters.

no racist To our shame there are many Australians, (most notedly our indigenous brothers and sisters, followed closely by those of African or “middle eastern appearance”) that regularly suffer systemic discrimination in housing and employment on the basis of their race. They are the same Australians that regularly suffer physical abuse in public spaces, and higher rates of detention and incarceration on account of their race. So please let’s not minimise this, these are real consequences, for real people!

Free speech is a noble ideal, but in order for something to be truly free it must come without a cost. Just because hate mongers like Andrew Bolt, Alan Jones and the oh so white fleet of right wing MP’s don’t personally pay the price for their racist tirades doesn’t mean someone isn’t picking up the tab. And too frequently those picking up the tab are the among the poorest and most marginalised members of our Australian family.


If you happen to belong to one of those oft targeted minorities the Racial Discrimination Act may not offer a lot of protection, but it is the thin end of a very important wedge. It is a line in the sand that says NO, we as Australians do NOT want a society where racial vilification and negative racial stereotypes are permitted to fester and stew in the public sphere. We want an Australia that says racists need to be ashamed, knowing that they are on the wrong side of what is morally decent, and on the wrong side of the law. We want an Australia where vile hate speech does land Andrew Bolt in court and up on charges. Mostly we want an Australia that is for the fair go for everyone regardless of race, colour or creed.

AFL call out

So Mr Bernadi, I say this to you on behalf of all decent, fair minded Australians… GET BACK IN YOUR BOX!!!, we don’t want the hate you are peddling!!!


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  1. stephentardrew

    Free speech has turned in to one of the most disruptive and insidious weapons of the right who will willingly distort facts and destroy peoples lives by telling unmitigated lies while using the disingenuous claim to free speech. The concept of free speech is a human construct open to criticism and modification. Treating it like a universal laws is just plain ignorant and misinformed especially when it becomes a justification for immorality and distribution of dangerous misinformation. Free speech has the same inherent dangers as Adam Smith’s invisible hand for which there is no empirical proof yet broad acceptance by economist. It is really magical thinking. Empirical proof should be the boundaries around which language evolves in a modern epoch and science demonstrates that surely not anything goes. Free speech is a paradox that cannot be decided purely upon misinformed appeals to some magical precept that has no foundational proof.

    Having said all that individuals are, of course, free to express what they like if it does not harm others however within a social milieu it is our responsibility to protect the vulnerable, marginalized and maligned.

    The problem with a paradox is it has no rational or logical solution so it ends up being a nasty can of subjective of worms.

  2. Marion Hosking

    I have been waiting for this to occur! And so have the Libs and so has the C I A!

  3. Möbius Ecko

    That’s it stephentardrew. This is not about free speech as mouthed by the radical right, but about them using it to distort facts and spread misinformation at will solely for political gain. The thing is they do this whilst at the same time curtailing or removing other democratic freedoms and rights under the banner of fighting terrorism or whatever other bogey they can produce also for political gain.

  4. Christine Sandoval

    Freedom of speech is well and good but pointlessly insulting a group of people in an offensive and vulgar way is neither intelligent or clever.

  5. Harquebus

    Free speech allows for the argument against hate speech. If hate speech is stifled, how can we oppose it?

  6. Erotic Moustache

    theoretically it would be OK if I were to call Tony Abbott filthy, unwashed, lazy, whinging, snaggle toothed, imperialist, stuck up, limey British scum?

    That sort of thing happens routinely at AIMN so it is more than just theoretically ok.

    But now that the proposed changes to 18C have been abandoned, all the lobbying in the world by ratbag Coalition hyper-conservatives won’t bring it back.

  7. MrPlumpkin

    The right to freedom of expression comes with the risk that some people will take the law of the land into their own hands.

    This picking and choosing of laws that one obeys or does not has been at the forefront with people who manipulate peoples’ thoughts and actions in the name of their religion.

    If I offend, wittingly or otherwise, then I risk a reaction. The consequences of this reaction may be simply a dismissal or may be more radical and involve violence (which may well be illegal).

    Charlie Hebdo has undertaken to be provocative, confronting and controversial. The reaction by some people has been to enact bloody violence and now that violence has spread across France with many, who had no hand in the crime, now living in fear, not from the nutjobs that perpetrated the crime, they’re dead, but from far right whackos against Muslims and Jews.

    Actions create consequences. A lack of respect for others and to not mess with peoples’ dignity is crucial for a society to live together in peace and harmony.

    Under Section 18C, the very material published by Charlie Hebdo in this instance would probably not be allowed in this country. Keep Section 18C.

  8. Erotic Moustache


    Freedom of speech is well and good but pointlessly insulting a group of people in an offensive and vulgar way is neither intelligent or clever.

    I more or less agree, but the situation isn’t so clear cut. Who gets to decide what is pointless and what is an insult? Lots of Catholics, for example, would consider some things written here – in both articles and commentary – to be both things, and yet the writers of those statements would not.

    It’s not such an easy thing to arbitrate.

  9. lizzieconnor

    Mr Plumpkin, I suppose you’ve heard by now what Tim Wilson has to say about 18C. He says that the Charlie cartoons wouldn’t be allowed in Australia, and that why we should repeal 18C!!!!

  10. Erotic Moustache

    18C requires neither repeal nor modification. Since its inception it’s worked pretty damn well and almost the only person to have fallen foul of it deserved what he got. Of course, he actually feels offended, insulted and humiliated, but then, no-one of any moral character gives a toss what he thinks or feels.

  11. Letitia McQuade

    Although Lizzie you have admit that Tim Wilson is making a somewhat fatuous correlation. The Charlie cartoons were primarily directed at Islam, which is a religion and not a race, ethnicity or nationality… and as such they wouldn’t fall under the purview of 18c anyway…. I think Stephentadrew is on the money with his comment above!

  12. georgep

    Can somebody PLEASE define free speech. How can we debate a concept that has no clear definition? My understanding is that the concept arose from the notion of freedom to express political opinion. I contend there is no such thing as the popular notion of free speech, i.e. that I am allowed to publicly utter any inane thought that enters my head.

    In Victoria (at least) you can be fined for uttering the word ‘f**k’ in public (even if the only other person that hears you is a policeman with an infringement notice pad).

    As the author notes; there is always a cost involved. No speech is free of consequence.

  13. townsvilleblog

    Of course the rabid right wing Senator Day is a member of the organization with its origins in the good ole’ USA, They are known by many names, Hillsong, Calvary etc, but it is all the fanatical assembly of god cult from the yanks. Morrison is also a member, they are so right wing that they border on fascism. That Aussies would vote for such people is a great disappointment to me and shows how badly we have been influenced by the yanks since the last world war.

  14. Kerri

    Do we really have to subject these idiots to a campaign of their own style of hate speech for them to recognise the nastiness of what they propose to allow?? OK I guess they have nothing to fear as it is unlikely our best insults would be based on race, colour or national or ethnic origin. But the act says nothing about offending, insulting and humiliating someone on the basis of their abject stupidity, egocentric bias, playground mentality, complete ignorance and total disregard for anyone other than themselves!!! Maybe Bernardi, Bolt, Brandis and co need to tell us exactly what it is they want the freedom to say and about whom???? The concept of freedom of speech exists for those with the understanding, compassion, judgement, intellect, literary skills and self control to use it responsibly and that does not apply to these low browed, knuckle dragging, thick skulled, redneck neanderthal, bullies who barely pass as human let alone journalists or politicians. If they are unable to express their hatred for another in a more sophisticated and balanced manner then 18C must remain.

  15. Mr Plumpkin

    Thanks Lizzie Connor, I wasn’t aware of this, however, his views on the repeal of 18C are on record.

  16. Möbius Ecko

    Can someone explain to me how some of those who advocate free speech also instigate defamation cases, especially political libel? Isn’t this why there is parliamentary privilege?

    If Wilson, Bernardi etc. also argued that parliamentary privilege and defamation should be done away along with 18c then they might have a little more reasoned argument.

  17. Glenn

    Instead of banning hate speech we should be educating society to be more socially and culturally aware, empowering individuals to judge the value of such statements from a broader perspective.
    Hate speech is not a problem in a healthy society, its simply ignored.

  18. corvus boreus

    If there is to be absolute freedom of speech there must also be absolute freedom of information.
    True free speech often becomes a shouting match of outlandish assertions. The claim that truth will out is only valid if there is unrestricted access to verified accurate information, and enforcable measures stopping conterfeiting of credibility.

    George Brandis is simultaneously advocating the legal right to publicly broadcast prejudicial and defamatory misinformation whilst cynically denying the public any access to valid information regarding his own conduct(details of suspect expense claims are being suppressed in the interests of our ‘national reputation’).

  19. Pingback: Je ne suis pas Charlie | Oosterman Treats Blog

  20. John

    Only through public debate can we lift society. Limiting freedom is tyrannical. If there’s a problem in society, we need to know about it. Anyone who has faced casual racism or anyone who is non white who has ever been asked “where are you from?” despite a thicker aussie accent than Michael caton knows we require racists to be outed. Solutions can only be found to problems.

  21. Kaye Lee

    That’s a nice sentiment John but having done many many hours on playground duty I can tell you that not all children are resilient enough to ignore taunts or sophisticated enough to think well it’s the taunter’s problem. Who protects the weak and vulnerable? People like Bolt and Pickering and Jones have a large audience. How does an individual speak louder than someone in the media?

  22. Bilal

    Hate speech leads to isolation of the target group and can result in very nasty attacks. The Jews of Czarist Russia learnt this and that hatred and propaganda was taken into Germany and got plenty of takers in Vichy France and Occupied Holland. Serbia was a source of hate speech which grew into genocide in the 1990s. Cigar is worth reading for a case study. 200,000 Bosnians died.

    Norman Cigar. “Genocide in Bosnia; The Policy of “Ethnic Cleansing.” Texas A&M University Press 1995
    Shaping the Intellectual Atmosphere

    “Well before the break-up of Yugoslavia, influential figures in Serbia had begun to shape a stereotypical image of Muslims as alien, inferior, and a threat to all that Serbs held dear. This perception was Orientalism taken in a broad sense and writ large. Orientalism, studied by Edward Said in his pioneer work on the phenomenon, is a remarkably stark and implication-laden division into “them” and “us.” This discourse spanned much of the Serbian national elite, including leading intellectuals, political figures, and clergymen, and its impact was to extend to all strata of society.

    Vuk Draskovic, author of several controversial best-sellers, such as the evocatively titled novel, Noz (Knife), which was first published in 1982 and reprinted several times, was perhaps the most popular and influential individual in developing such stereotypes early. Set largely against the background of World War II, the Muslim characters in Noz appear mostly as treacherous cold-blooded murderers. What is more, Noz contains an explicit denial of the Muslims’ existence as a legitimate community..

    Such messages about the Muslims eventually were to become commonplace in Serbia’s popular and scholarly literature, while the Serbian media denigrated Islam openly and gratuitously, often in terms approaching racism. Draskovic himself continued to propagate these ideas in other writings and speeches. He lashed out vehemently at the “fury of offensive and intolerant Islam in Bosnia, Kosovo, the Sandzak, and Herzegovina….[at] the vampire-like resurgence of the tradition of the Shariah [religious law], and…the strategy of jihad [holy war] with the goal of creating an Islamic state in the Balkans.”

    Vilification can be used to demonise a target group so it is seen as sub-human, worthy of ethnic cleansing.

  23. Florence nee Fedup

    Free speech has never been an absolute. It has always has the restraints of defamation and libel laws. One can find yourself facing treason charges.

    Yes, it must be truthful and not cause harm.

  24. Terry2

    I just cannot understand why these people will not leave Section 18C alone and why they never mention the existing exemptions under 18D which, in my view, quite sensibly balance 18C. Any discussion on 18C can only be in context with 18D.

    For those who consider the existing 18C as oppressive please read 18D :


    Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:

    (a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or

    (b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or

    (c) in making or publishing:

    (i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or

    (ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.

  25. Carol Taylor

    Terry2, because mentioning s18D does not suit the rhetoric that honest and open debate is somehow being stunted via 18C. Also often unmentioned is that fact that Bolt lost his case because Justice Bromberg found that Bolt made errors of fact. Bolt used s18D as his defence but due to the errors he made (such as his claim that Larissa Behrendt’s father was not Aboriginal but was German), he lost.

    This differs to Pauline Hansen’s book where her (racist) statements were considered fair debate.

  26. Terry2

    Yes, Carol : Bolt fails on so many levels -: ‘reasonably and in good faith ‘ ‘fair and accurate’ and ‘in the ‘public interest’

  27. Carol Taylor

    It came to mind that in all this debate the demand that in the name of free speech, that Muslims should just accept that others are allowed to satirise their religion. This is a free country those of right loudly exclaim, with a dose of self-righteousness thrown in for good measure.

    But what say things were different. An imaginary scenario: The Daily Telegraph runs a full page colour cartoon of Jesus doing something unpleasant to a large labrador. All in the name of satire, all in the name of free speech. The howls of outrage would be deafening, death threats to the editor and writers of the DT would doubtless follow. But what’s wrong with this, it’s satire, it’s free speech.

  28. Möbius Ecko

    Especially in America Carol. There would be no doubt that anyone who satirised the Evangelicals and Christ would be attacked. Charlie Hebdo satirised all religions including the Christian ones and I doubt they could set up shop or have an equivalent in the US, especially in the deeply Evangelical religious states.

  29. stephentardrew

    Spot on Carol great observation.

  30. Florence nee Fedup

    What about all the other rights we have as humans. Does some concepts of “free speech” over ride all other rights.

    Human rights are rights inherent to all human beings, whatever our nationality, place of residence, sex, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, language, or any other status. We are all equally entitled to our human rights without discrimination. These rights are all interrelated, interdependent and indivisible.

    What are Human Rights……………..”………..0.4PrU-w3pqlU

    “Reframing the free speech debate”

    I wonder what happened to our rights of freedom of association under this mob. Apparently when it comes to those who ride bikes, along with unionist, they do not exist.

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