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Losing privilege is now a crime against humanity

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’ve 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.

This article was originally published on No Place For Sheep.

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  1. babyjewels10

    It’s loathesome. I don’t know how those who’re pushing for the right to cause offence based on skin colour, culture or religion can hold up their heads in public. I never thought I’d see the day…

  2. Moses

    Tell the to the QUT students who were vilified and harrassed by Triggs and her cohorts.

  3. kerri

    Then there’s that old mantra, “if you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all”
    It appears to me many of those wanting the right to vilify on the basis of race would have assiduously instilled this belief in their own children.

  4. guest

    Moses, Triggs has explained the reasons for proceeding with the case, which was thrown out. If the case had been upheld, you might have had some reason to be upset. Why was the complainant upset? All we hear about is the accused students and their “vilification”.

    Does that mean that any person who is exonerated from some charge has been previously “vilified” by the police?

  5. Susan

    Great article thank you.

  6. Kaye Lee

    The HRC tried to conciliate the case brought against the QUT students before it ever went to court. Without being privy to exactly what was said, I find it extremely difficult to believe that the HRC vilified or harrassed anyone at all. When conciliation failed the HRC closed the case. The litigant then chose to take the matter to court. If her legal representatives were about justice and good advice, they would have told her not to pursue it – but that’s not what the legal fraternity is about. Many firms now take on cases for no pay other than a percentage of any payout you receive. The vast majority of cases are settled before court, making it worthwhile to occasionally lose one.

    Blame the legal fraternity – not those who try to help people avoid using them.

    One aspect of the original complaint that I haven’t seen discussed – I would assume that the computer lab was funded using Aboriginal grant money? I do understand the angst that segregation causes but the students should also understand the tragedy that disadvantage causes. Everyone got way too emotional and defensive in this case, fuelled by the media, who are more to blame for the harassment of the students than the HRC. Many of us have had to face spurious law suits, particularly if you own a business. Yes, it’s shitful and expensive but that’s what our litigious legal system encourages.

  7. Jexpat

    Unless something has substantially changed, the government doesn’t have the votes -so all of their tubthumping over 18c is for naught.

  8. Carol Taylor

    There was never any problem with 18C until Andrew Bolt lost not so much because of his vilification of people but due to “numerous errors of fact” including that Larissa Behrendt’s father is “German” (Bolt obviously saw the surname, jumped to the conclusion without bothering to check). He also called Ms. Benrendt a blonde German and provided a picture to prove it. Ms. Benrendt was sporting blonde tips at the time, a hairstyle worn only briefly. So there you have Bolt’s “evidence” for the accusation that a person was claiming Aboriginality for advantage. An Attack On Free Speech! the tabloids shrilly proclaimed…and have been doing so ever since. It never was about free speech, but about Bolt’s crappy journalistic skills.

    It seems that 18C had become Turnbull’s equivalent of Abbott’s asylum seekers..drag the issue out whenever things aren’t going too well. Turnbull firstly tried a little union bashing which brought forth little but yawns, however in Australia racism (Aborignal or Muslim) always works a treat.

  9. will

    dont forget the racist Andrew bolt

  10. helvityni

    Carol, sadly you are right:
    “… however in Australia racism (Aboriginal or Muslim) always works a treat.”

    The childish mantra “Go back where you came from” is still used today.

  11. Kaye Lee

    I was on the P&C committee for my kid’s school. The boys had to wear light blue socks. Every year new parents would bring up the light blue socks….again. Every year, we would send a survey home. Every year, we would get the same response – most people didn’t bother returning the survey but the blue socks advocates sure did. So much time wasted on silly stuff – over and over and over again.

    What sort of person thinks that the greatest problem facing this nation is the restraints put on bigots to insult people on racial grounds? As Carol so rightly points out, it’s an easy bone to cast to the ravenous hounds they have let off the leash.

    Labor should launch a pre-emptive strike and introduce a Bill to change the wording as Jennifer and Gillian have suggested. The Coalition wouldn’t know what to do because they can’t agree with a Labor Bill.

    Perhaps they could make it an omnibus bill and include a free vote on marriage equality. Make the bigots face the conundrum of which they want more – vote against it and you don’t want “free speech” or an end to discrimination.

  12. Jaquix

    Professor Triggs explsined quite clearly on 7.30 recently, that the HRC dont take complaints tocourt. They mediate with omplainants and whoever they have complained about. When this mediation fails, the complainant can take the matter to court for redress, but HRC steps out of the scene and is not involved in the case from then on. Leigh Sales didnt believe her (after all, Malcolm had thundered inaccurately about Triggs “dragging the QUT students to court”) and asked again, and yet again. Got the same answer. Prof, Triggs has been demonised viciously by the Liberals, who will appoint a compliant stooge like Tim Wilson, to the role, when she retires at contract end. PS Malcolm, she had already signalled she would not seek re-appointment long before you so rudely announced you “wouldnt be renewing her contract, she was appointed by the Labor Party” etc. Honestly its embarrassing to be an Australian these days.

  13. Harquebus

    In my experience, those that are “incapable of dealing with criticism of their speech” are those that are most likely to want to curb it.

    I prefer that people toughen up and allow others to state what they really think. Hiding bad speech behind a veil of enforced silence does not quash bad ideas and thoughts, it sends them underground where they can fester unseen, unheard and unaddressed.

    Of course, there are always exceptions and if past experience is anything to go by, I can expect a few more to be thrown my way. My response in advance is, freedom comes at a price and sometimes, it is a heavy price and as time progresses, it appears that fewer and fewer are prepared to pay it.


  14. Kaye Lee


    As usual, I agree with some of what you say and take exception to some – which is probably what discussion should be about.

    As to your first line, that champion of free speech, Cory Bernardi, got VERY upset in a Senate committee when Scott Ludlum called him a denier and he also got very upset when Bill Shorten called him a homophobe. Apparently words only matter if they are directed against you for your words and actions rather than against someone because of the parents they were born to.

    I used to say toughen up (about life in general) until one of my girlfriend’s who was really struggling at the time said I wish I could. Not everyone has the capacity to adequately express how they feel, to argue against the bullies, to have a platform to discount the lies told about them.

    We are not asking for people to be quiet, just civil.

  15. Davidbruce

    I for one resent the Government attacks on the HRC. After spending a year in Tonga, this white racist had the privilege of working with many Tongans who are extremely sensitive about their skin colour. So it was with great pleasure when my host made the comment in a recent workshop, about us working together as “humanity in action”. Last night I saw a brief trailer on the Ray Martin project in the remote areas of Australia. It gives me some hope that all Australians will develop a love of their country and the diversity of their people.

  16. Michael Taylor

    I prefer that people toughen up and allow others to state what they really think.

    Totally, totally, totally disagree. H’, go and spend three months in Coober Pedy and listen to some of the shit that young Aboriginal girls have to listen to from groups of drunk white men. Walk into a pub with an Aboriginal mate and listen to what he has to put up with. I’m sorry, H’, I too agree with you on a lot of things, but this I can’t. I have to be honest here, I have a tear in my eye just thinking about what I’ve witnessed my Indigenous friends suffer from white mouths.

  17. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    I am always pleased when overlap in our thinking occurs.
    As I said, there are always exceptions. Defending those less able in the verbal arena is a moral obligation that, if met by society should not require legislation.
    Does the civility of remarks made matter in a court of law?

  18. Kaye Lee

    The civility of remarks matters for our social cohesion, it matters for our self-esteem, it matters for our mental health, it matters for what we teach our children, it matters for our ability to learn from others and to co-operate to make things better, it matters for respect and love

  19. Mark Needham

    Still like to know, if Trigs is not conducting a court, then how, did 2 students get skinned for $5,000 each, when there was no case to answer.
    I mean, Trigs threw it out.
    The courts threw it out.

    Kaye Lee, reference to Bernardi, Ludlum and Shorton.
    We all get upset, when an apparent untruth, describing “me” is spoken. The difference is, that a Court Case or Arbitration wasn’t required.
    Just saying,
    Mark Needham

  20. Jaquix

    Exactly, Kaye Lee. Its old fashioned manners. Which means having regard for the other person. Their feelings. Freedom of speech is basically a great concept – it means we ard free to criticise the government, to hold them, the police, other institutiins, to account. It doesnt give licence to be rude or nasty to individual citizens because you feel like it.

  21. helvityni

    Agree with you, Kaye Lee and Michael Taylor, civility matters, and as Kaye says: “We are not asking for people to be quiet, just civil”.

  22. helvityni

    Jaquix, I found Leigh Sales interview with Gillian Triggs totally out of order, talking to Triggs as if she were a child, who did not understand the questions.

    No doubt trying to please the Liberals, not very professional at all….

  23. Zathras

    I remember how Bolt went on his Radio programme, his TV show, his Newspaper column as well as his blog to loudly complain about how unfairly he had been “silenced”.

    Normally the overlooked 18D would have prevented his conviction but it didn’t because he was not only wrong and racist but deliberately so, and it was all due to a group of people bothering to call him out on what he wrote.
    It they didn’t it would have been swept up in all the other half-truths and distortions being spouted and accepted as truth.

    So who are these extra “freedoms” really meant for and for what purpose?

  24. Jennifer Wilson

    Moses, in what universe were the QUT students *vilified & harassed* by the HRC?
    If we’re going to apportion blame here, I’d start with QUT, who don’t seem to have responded particularly well to a problem within their own institution, so that the complainant felt it necessary to proceed to the HRC.
    The HRC did what it’s supposed to do, attempted every avenue of mediation & negotiation, and the complainant wasn’t satisfied with the outcome. The complaint then escalated into court action. How is this in any way the fault of the HRC?
    The HRD has no authority to prosecute cases. They can only attempt to resolve them and failing that, advise the parties on whether or not they consider the matter has legs enough to proceed to litigation. The complainants are still free to choose litigation even if the HRC advises against it.

    MY understanding about the $5,000 a couple of the defendants paid is that it was negotiated by the university to release them from further involvement. If I’m wrong, please correct me.

  25. jimhaz

    i have little doubt Cindy Prior is a total arsehole. Pity the students paid the money.

    The problem is the crawlers within the uni management, mostly the feminist crowd, and the government itself by allowing a separate 2.4 million dollar ! computer facility for aboriginals.

    A sure way to build a sense of distance and entitlement.

    The thing is though, the Human Rights Commission did not pursue the issue. Clearly they thought it a false complaint thus delayed and delayed.

  26. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee and others.
    I am not the most civilized person one could ever meet but, all the same, you will get no argument from me on your views about civility. What I meant with the question was, does it matter to a court of law if one is civil or not in violating a speech law? I am not a lawyer and is why I asked but, my best guess is no unless, it leads to a lesser sentence.

    Does civility guarantee that theAIMN will not remove a comment? Does uncivil guarantee that it will?
    No and no.

    I am not questioning your site operators right to remove comments.


  27. Kaye Lee


    I am not asking for a total sanitisation of discourse nor for the removal of all emotion. I also often disappoint myself in my responses but continually remind myself and try hard to improve.

    There are limits and lines.

    As for the AIMN, I find it very well administered to both allow discussion whilst keeping it decent. They can’t be watching 24/7 but I think they, and commenters, do a very good job overall.

  28. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    The number regular readers theAIMN has is a pretty clear indication of that.

  29. Kaye Lee

    I should add that there is a big difference between having a heated discussion about someone’s point of view and slagging them off because of their ethnicity.

  30. Harquebus

    Kaye Lee
    Which brings me back to the point of identifying the slaggers and speaking out against them.
    Those opportunities are being lost which, a moral society should have no problems dealing with.
    Perhaps the need for legislation says more about our deficiencies as a society than it does of bigots and other slaggers.

  31. Michael Taylor

    H’, we do remove comments if they are offensive or vile, especially if they are an attack on someone. We also remove comments if they are slanderous, or likely to lead to litigation. Often then when we remove a comment it protects the person who made it. Sounds ironic, I know. We don’t want to see any of our commenters (or us) sued. We have a lawyer who looks at our posts and she has at times asked us to remove or edit posts. If they’re a bit iffy we get her to cast her eye over them before they are published. Author’s can also remove comments from their posts. I’ll think you’ll agree though, that we’re generally tolerant here. But you needn’t worry too much, your a fairly civilised bloke.

  32. Kaye Lee

    And you haven’t said peak oil for ever so long 😉

  33. Harquebus

    Michael Taylor

    This started with this comment from Kaye Lee:
    “We are not asking for people to be quiet, just civil.”

    Uncivil dialogue can be offensive and not a prosecutable offense while a civil dialogue that breaches an act is.
    I am aware of your obligations and agree, you are tolerant and handle them well.
    Thanks for the “civilised bloke” thingy. I will point that out to my mum. The same can be said of you and others.

    As most of us seem to be of the civilized type in a mostly civilized society, it adds another layer to question of why is legislation needed to limit speech. It weakens us and denies us from exhibiting some of our better qualities.

    Kaye Lee

    Peak oil is history. 2005 in fact.
    How do you like it so far?

    Warning: Do not get me started.
    It will be off topic and theAIMN will have to be forced to carry through on some of its obligations.

    That said and because you mentioned it, I will take advantage of it and respond with; I did recently pose a question as to my interpretation of some aspects to the oil industry. An oilman whose handle is “rockman” and who often comments and is never rebutted in regards to oil field physics responded with this:
    “H – All reasonable. But some tweaking.”

    If you’re interested, peruse the comments section here:

    The oil industry, amongst others, is a subject that I have been reading about every day for just on a decade now and I feel that I have a reasonable understanding of it. It is the main ingredient in my resource depletion arguments.


  34. guest

    My concern is not so much with the loud and boisterous; they make themselves readily known and are more easily rejoined.

    I hate the conniving well educated who couch their language in perfectly grammatical language, civil and well organised – but full of moaning and complaining and accusations against certain people and institutions, full of vitriol and vilification, loaded with ideological bias and riddled with tell-tale weasel words and phrases repeated ad nauseam. They rain down on their targets with supercilious arrogance and contrived fatuous nonsense, and bark and scream when challenged.

    They are easily spotted, but are not easily available for comment. They flock together like exotic birds. One of their favourite pastimes is writing about their elevated buddies in halls of fame – and how together they constitute the Masters of the Universe, more elite than the ‘leets in inner urban areas. They are the scribblers who supply the world with all the news we need – not what to think, but what to think about; so fair, so balanced, so infallible, so unassailable. And yet so ignorant.

  35. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Arrogant and/or well-resourced people bleating about their “freedom of speech” rights is a cynical counter-attack on advocates of a range of human rights and is used as a shield to conceal their desire to say outrageous and uncivil statements with impunity.

  36. townsvilleblog

    Jennifer I notice it is mainly the ultra right wing tories who are complaining the loudest, those with positions of influence appointed by the Liberal Party who want to freely insult people. They are already well underway with their project to change Australia into a duplicate of the US of A, and now that whinge about things that they want, to complete that change. Even the partially government owned Westnet has been sold without any publicity it seems to the yank iinet and have installed a yank accent on our message bank, which I have cancelled (I wouldn’t want my friends getting the wrong idea – that I was a yankee lover) and am currently looking around for another ISP to sign up to.

  37. guest

    Mentioning those who demand “free speech” but only for themselves, I see that these same people are calling those who protest against Trump’s election as “halfwits” opposed to democracy.

    This is very interesting, given that only half those registered to vote actually voted – and Trump received only half of the votes cast – it is called “democracy”. Of course, voters do not have to vote in the USA, but seriously, Trump gets to be POTUS with one quarter of the votes?

    Then these same “freedom of speech” twits here in Oz deny anyone to question the Alliance with the USA, so enamored is the Right here in Oz of anything yank. Even NZ is able to stand up to yank imperialism, but Oz? No, Oz crawls around on hands and knees in awe of a POTUS who received only a quarter of available votes and performs in public like a deranged twit, and a dangerous one, at that.

    But the “freedom” people demand we must not say anything about the bleeding obvious.

  38. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    I fear you are right, townsvilleblog and guest.

    More reason to resist their blatant subservience to America and to reverse the damage of every stake hammered into our standard of living and sense of identity.

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