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Tag Archives: s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

The real stitch-up

Tony Abbott has been sneeringly yelling at anyone who will listen, if there are any of those left, that the government has no confidence in Gillian Triggs because the timing of her report shows it is a “stitch up” designed to make him look bad, like he isn’t capable of doing that on his own.

I would like to point out that Ms Triggs told Senate estimates hearings in early 2013 of the HRC’s concern about children in detention and their ongoing investigation. She was slapped down by George Brandis who wasn’t interested.

In February 2013, some seven months after Ms Triggs had assumed her role at the Human Rights Commission, and seven months before the election, Senator Brandis grilled her unmercilessly about why the HRC was not spending more of their budget on defending free speech.

When she pointed out that the HRC receive about 17,500 inquiries a year of which approximately three concern political opinion “so it is a very tiny part, in answer to your question, of the complaints function of the commission”, Brandis refused to accept her explanation.

Senator BRANDIS: That may very well be so, Professor Triggs, but why has it taken people other than the Human Rights Commission to elevate this debate? Why has it taken people like my friends at the Institute of Public Affairs, some of my colleagues in the coalition, columnists, editorial writers and writers of letters to the editors of the newspapers to get a debate up and going in Australia about limitations on freedom, when we have an agency, your agency, whose explicit statutory charter is to promote and advance those rights?

Prof. Triggs : I wonder if I could take another point here. I accept your question. I think it is a valuable one, as I have said. But let us look at another element of this—that is, a great deal of my time as president and that of many members of our human rights law and policy group has been responding to our profound concerns about the mandatory detention of asylum seekers. I understand that at the moment we have many thousands—and I do not know the exact number, but let us say 6,000 people—in mandatory detention in Australia, including children. Many have been there for years. Babies have been born within that environment. They have been charged with no offence, and they have not yet had their claims to refugee status assessed. That is an area that I think is of fundamental importance to human rights.

Senator BRANDIS: Well, it is.

Prof. Triggs : It concerns arbitrary detention without trial. If I may say so, I went to an interesting lecture by the foreign minister the other day to celebrate the Magna Carta, quoting the fundamental principles of the Magna Carta that no man—or presumably woman—can be charged or held without a trial of their peers. It seems extraordinary—

Senator BRANDIS: I do not think the barons at Runnymede had friends like Mr Eddie Obeid and Mr Ian Macdonald, unlike our foreign minister, who speaks with eloquence about the Magna Carta, at least.

Brandis mentions several times his “friends at the IPA”

“Whereas your commission is a dedicated and committed advocate of antidiscrimination principles, I do not see the commission being a dedicated and committed advocate of freedom principles. You have think tanks, like in the Institute of Public Affairs, which has something called a ‘freedom project’. I do not see a freedom project in the Human Rights Commission.”

Senator Brandis finishes with what was no doubt his aim all along.

Senator BRANDIS: My last question. Your commission does seem to have a superabundance of discrimination commissioners in various areas. Should the Human Rights Commission have a freedom commissioner whose particular brief is to promote the kind of balance of which you speak so that within the commission there is a person whose particular job is to promote freedom, just as, within the commission at the moment, there are, I think, five commissioners whose particular job is to promote antidiscrimination? Would that not be a desirable balance—one freedom person versus five anti-discrimination people?

Come on down Timmy!

A couple of months later, in April 2013, Brandis attended the IPA 70th birthday bash. He obviously enjoyed himself because he has been rewarding them ever since.

As soon as he assumed office, Brandis gifted to Tim Wilson a $400,000 a year job as a Human Rights Commissioner despite his “woefully inadequate” qualifications. It seems apparent that Wilson was appointed to destroy from within and, if worst comes to worst and he can’t abolish the HRC as he wants, then Tim will probably be offered the top job after the “anonymous” leaks about Triggs wanting to get out.

After the predictable backlash to this obvious act of cronyism, George wrote an article in the Australian condemning those who criticized his choice.

“But some things never change, like the reaction of the claque of bilious pseudo-intellectuals who constitute what passes for a left-wing commentariat in this country. Mike Carlton, Catherine Deveney, Van Badham and their ilk were nothing if not boorishly predictable. They and their followers unleashed a storm of hatred and bile against Wilson on social media, the like of which I have never seen.”

Or perhaps they just thought that sacking the Disability Commissioner to employ your unqualified inexperienced ideologically opposed little friend was a step too far? And is that any way for the highest legal officer in the land to speak?

This was all the more hypocritical considering Brandis, in opposition, had previously taken to the Australian to excoriate the appointment by Mark Dreyfus of Labor staffer-turned-intellectual Tim Soutphommasane as Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission, a role for which he was eminently qualified, labelling him as “yet another partisan of the Left”.

Dr Soutphommasane graduated from the University of Sydney with a first-class honours degree. He was then a Commonwealth Scholar and Jowett Senior Scholar at Balliol College of the University of Oxford where he completed a Master of Philosophy with distinction and a Doctor of Philosophy in political theory.

From 2010 to 2012 he was a Lecturer in Australian Studies and a Research Fellow at the National Centre for Australian Studies of Monash University.

Soutphommasane is the author of three books: The Virtuous Citizen: Patriotism in a Multicultural Society (Cambridge University Press, 2012), Don’t Go Back To Where You Came From: Why Multiculturalism Works (New South Books, 2012) which in 2013 won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award in the ‘Community Relations Commission Award’ section, and Reclaiming Patriotism: Nation-Building for Australian Progressives (Cambridge University Press, 2009).

By contrast, Wilson has a Bachelor of Arts and a Masters of Diplomacy and Trade from Monash University. He worked at the Institute of Public Affairs for seven years. He was a vocal critic of the Human Rights Commission and during his time there the IPA called for the abolition of the commission.

After his “surprise”appointment, Wilson wrote that:

“Attorney-General George Brandis has asked me, as Australia’s next human rights commissioner, to focus on traditional liberal democratic and common law rights, particularly article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

All rights should be defended, but the human right most being neglected is free speech. Arguably freedom of speech is the most important human right. It is the human right necessary to protect and defend all other human rights.

Article 19 of the covenant states: “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.”

Article 19 ought to be the human rights community’s starting point. But at the moment it seems more like a footnote.

Increasingly free speech has been pushed aside in favour of laws and regulations designed to stop people being offensive to each other, a steadily expanding corpus of anti-discrimination and defamation law, and the growing momentum towards restrictions on speech online.”

Whilst the Attorney General may appoint people to the HRC, I am not sure he has the power to direct them then what to say and do, and I am wondering how Tim feels about George’s recent announcement of devoting $17 million to monitor social media to take down terrorist propaganda

When the two Tims attended Senate estimates hearings in May 2014 to discuss proposed changes to Section 18C of the racial discrimination act, George Brandis objected to Tim Soutphommasane giving his opinion even though he is the Racial Discrimination Commissioner. Ian Macdonald, coincidentally, was also chairing this meeting as he was with the recent meeting with Gillian Triggs and he upheld Senator Brandis’ objection saying his opinion had no place in the discussion. (see video here)

But later in the hearing, Tim Wilson was allowed to re-state, at length, his clear support for changing the Act.

After the hearing, Senator Singh said Dr Soutphommasane ”was gagged, in complete contradiction to Tim Wilson who was able to share his views on the RDA. Senator Brandis initially stopped me from asking the question and accused me of being dishonest in asking for Dr Soutphommasane’s views. This is a man who stands for freedom of speech yet won’t allow a witness at the table to speak.”

This absolute championing of freedom of speech seems very much at odds with Tony Abbott’s stand against Hizb ut-Tahrir, taken after Alan Jones urged him to “proscribe the movement”.

“We are changing the law that will make it easier to ban organisations like Hizb ut-Tahrir. But before that even we should have a system in place which red cards these hate preachers and stops them coming to Australia.”

The response from our “Freedom Commissioner” was totally devoid of any legal facts, or gumption for that matter, as reported by Michelle Grattan in October:

“Wilson fears florid talk about “hate speech” can “justify censorship all over the place”. He is considering putting in a personal submission to the current parliamentary inquiry into the legislation, urging a tighter definition of the advocacy of terrorism. Wilson says it is unclear where the line would be between the advocacy of terrorism and for example attacking the coalition’s air strikes in the Middle East.”

Apparently, he either didn’t get around to his “personal submission” or it was ignored.

Abbott is right…this has been a stitch-up – one that began well before George Brandis was in a position to reward his “friends at the IPA” and, with the help of Senator Macdonald, take his revenge on that pesky woman.

Feel free to speak about whatever I want you to

Part A

In an address to the IPA titled “Freedom Wars”, Tony Abbott declared that it is his intention to repeal s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, claiming that this section of the Act impacts upon Freedom of Speech. This ideal of freedom of speech is that which we should all aspire to, however, as a friend once stated: You mean the freedom to be an asshole. We will explore this later.

The text of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) can be found via Austlii.

Section C18 of the Act, that being which Tony Abbott so vehemently opposes concerns offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin. That’s correct, it’s offensive behaviour, with the specifics being:

For an act to be unlawful it must fulfill the following criteria:

  • that the action causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or that it is done in a public place.
  • that the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people.
  • that 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 let us consider that which is not considered unlawful under s18C of the Act.

It is not a group of friends in a public bar talking amongst themselves, even if the subject matter would offend and humilitate a person standing directly next to them. For example, racist jokes.

It is not public discussions for the purpose of information, education or analysis.

There is also the matter of intention plus “the reasonable person test” that is, would a reasonable person given an identical set of circumstances feel humiliated or intimidated. With regard to intent; for example a remark said in public about a person’s religion might offend that person, however if there was lack of intent on the first person’s part to cause offence, then it is not racial vilification.

Therefore, what we are dealing with is people who want the right to make statements in the public forum, and with the intention of causing offence and humiliation. Enter Andrew Bolt.

Is it nothing more than a sheer coincidence that Abbott announced his intention of changing the racial vilification section of the Racial Discrimination Act just prior to Bolt writing this one. How dare they try to censor this flyer.

Andrew Bolt:

Sadly, the ACT Government seems only too keen on the idea:

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said laws prohibiting religious vilification should be considered by a review of the act that is being conducted by the ACT Law Reform Advisory Council.

How dare these people presume to strip others of the right to speak? How dare they?

And . . . again, where Bolt once again attempts to defend freedom:

I make no comment on their opinion but on the principle.

Opposition Leader Tony Abbott rightly calls the laws under which two of my articles on this matter were declared unlawful an offence against free speech, and says he will strip them back. But the Left is furious, and introduces absurd excuses for their excesses:

As reported in news.com, Mr Abbott’s speech came after he wrote in The Australian that section 18C of the act was a “threat” to freedom of speech.

“Expression or advocacy should never be unlawful merely because it is offensive,” he wrote.

All well and good, but this is where it gets strange . . .

Part B

The parties that are advocating relaxation to the freedom of speech laws, nay, hysterically demanding it, are the ones who are in reality practicing the most rabid suppression of it. They want the freedom to be an asshole whilst limiting free speech on those who hold opposing views (to them). You’ll be able to racially vilify or abuse anyone whatsoever, but you will be silenced if any form of dissent, no matter how trivial, is directed towards them.

Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi provides us with a number of examples where he takes freedom of speech to mean exactly ‘freedom to be an asshole’. From his Facebook page:

His post “300 more illegal arrivals in the past three days. Labor’s border failures are costing us over $10 billion” attracted a large number of comments, mostly in support of what he said. Here are some of the responses:

I wonder how these lefties will feel when one of there family gets raped like the girl at Sydney uni by a so called legal asylum seeker. Then we have aids tripling in NT ,not to mention known terrorists being released into the community. I class left wing progressive socialists as much a threat to Australia as Islam.

Just what we need more Sudanese and samarlians they’ve settled well hear,NOT! There would have to be a very high likely hood they are connected to terrorist group alshabab,they would be the only ones with the money to get here.

Just think of all the radical muslim’s that are coming as well!

And his post “Here are some facts surrounding the convicted Egyptian jihadist living in the Adelaide Hills…and still this Government won’t admit their failure to protect our borders and our nation. For more of today’s bulletin go to CoryBernardi.com” also attracted comments of support.

Just think of all the radical muslim’s that are coming as well!

We will never know how many other terrorists, murderers or people of disrepute have come into our country because of this Gov, and it’s loss of control of our boarders. We will never know who could be walking amongst us, or what threats could be awaiting our country. This Gov, has put our country in a very vulnerable situation because it has not done it’s job of protecting our boarders !!!!!!!!!!

We should start denying entry to muslims. Make it happen Cory! Fight the good Christian fight!

One terrorist detected….thousands go undetected. Big salaries being paid for incompetence. Stop muslim migration in Australia whether it be legal or illegal. Don’t let history repeat itself.

As much as I disagree with Bernardi’s opinion, or those who support it, I have no problem with their right to express it (however some of it borders on an incitement to racial hatred and should not have been published). Now here’s where it gets funny; where the freedom to be an asshole takes precedent over freedom of speech. I left a simple comment on his page:

Could you please point out why they are illegal arrivals?

That comment was removed and I was subsequently blocked from commenting on his page again. Yes, they love freedom of speech, don’t they? They can vilify anybody who is non-white or non-Christian but but you can’t question their ‘right’ to do so.

There are a number of other examples across social media that confirm the hypocrisy of these right-wing fundamentalists. Let’s also look at Andrew Laming (a politician fond of composing racist tweets), courtesy of Michael White:

Federal Liberal MP Andrew Laming went on a trolling warpath earlier this month in regards to his perception that the National Broadband Network (NBN) was being rolled out in the Brisbane area on a politico-geographic agenda.

“The cold, hard reality in Brisbane is that households in Labor seats are eight times more likely to get the NBN than those in Coalition seats.”

“Worse, the odds are around 50 per cent better if your Labor MP is a minister. This is a save-the-political-furniture strategy. They are not targeting marginal seats here. They are just trying to survive.”

Of course, there are many reasons why his position was completely wrong, as I highlighted in my article last week on how the Coalition – (deliberately or otherwise) – manage to get their facts on the NBN completely wrong.

Constantly.

At the time of his rant – (spread throughout the media over several days) – myself, @CameronWatt and @Gwyntaglaw engaged in a terse dialogue on Twitter with Laming, pointing out clear, well documented facts in regards to the NBN and its rollout schedule, that were contrary to Laming’s own beliefs on the matter.

He ably demonstrated his inability to grasp even the basic concepts of how the NBN works, how it connects together, and how technical matters – (in most cases) – dictate which parts of the network are rolled out first.

He clearly didn’t like being shown up as being wrong about it.

In fact, he hated it.

How much did he hate it? Well, he blocked me on Twitter, a fact I discovered when putting together the aforementioned article last week.

They really do get precious about freedom of speech when it’s not engaged under their rules. They raise their preciousness to the point of being ridiculous. Here is one that definitely ranks as ridiculous:

Andrew Nikolic, a Liberal Party candidate in Tasmania has threatened to contact the employers of Facebook users who “liked” a satirical article posted about him online.

Mr Nikolic informed the New Examiner last week that if the offending article was not taken down he would write to the employers of all the individuals who had “liked” the story.

“I hope the employers and influencers of your satirical group will be amused by the formal letters of complaint I will now send them on this issue,” wrote Mr Nikolic in a Facebook comment that has since been deleted.

Joe Hockey is another who denies free speech to those who have any semblence of opinions that differ from his own.

Yesterday I discovered that Joe Hockey had called me a troll and blocked me on twitter. My dastardly crime that had caused Joe Hockey to call me a Labor Troll was the reposting of one of his own tweets.

I will say that again, my trollish crime was re-posting one of Joe Hockey’s own tweets.

Oh dear Joe Hockey, Oh deary dear. Is this what our politicians have come to? Reduced to name calling and public hissy fits because a member of the public questions their own words.

It was your own words I was responding to Joe, not Labors words, not a PR piece or a smear campaign designed to discredit you, but your own words, Joe Hockey.

Now go back and read Part A again. Do you see two parallel worlds?

If time permits, also do a Google search and you’ll find dozens of instances where Coalition politicians have blocked people for exercising their freedom of speech; for reasons none other than having a different opinion. It really is a case of freedom to be an asshole. You can vilify, say, Aborigines or Muslims in their brave new world, but you can’t ask them to justify it.

Their reaction to the few examples I’ve revealed in Part B certainly do make their intentions in Part A nothing but Freedom of speech LNP style: Feel free to speak about whatever I want you to.

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