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Journalism

Aug 7, 2012

How Bolt got Abbott to start the Freedom Wars

Andrew Bolt is poised for victory in his crusade to repeal sections of the Racial Discrimination Act after Tony Abbott committed to changing the law. Andrew Crook and Matthew Knott report.

Conservative commentator Andrew Bolt is poised for victory in his crusade to repeal sections of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act after dinner buddy Tony Abbott committed to changing the law when the Coalition ascends to government.

In his “Freedom Wars” speech delivered yesterday to a gaggle of adoring acolytes at the Institute of Public Affairs, the alternative Prime Minister gave his conservative bedfellow a deliberate shout out when outlining his legislative plans:

“If it’s alright for David Marr, for instance, to upset conservative Christians in his attempt to have them see the error of their ways, why is it not alright for Andrew Bolt to upset activist Aboriginals to the same end?”

When Bolt was found guilty last year for claiming pale-skinned Aborigines had identified as indigenous to further their careers in columns with titles like “White is the new black“, his legal team considered appealing the decision — perhaps all the way to the High Court.

But News then ditched that path, saying instead that it would lobby the legislature to ensure its star columnist could opine freely in the future. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has ruled out repealing or changing the act, leaving Abbott as Bolt’s only saviour.

Abbott already had an eager ear — when the guilty verdict was handed down, he warned specifically against restricting “the sacred principle of free speech”. “Free speech means the right of people to say what you don’t like, not just the right of people to say what you do like,” he said.

And fortuitously, the two are close — Abbott dined with Bolt and wife Sally Morrell after the verdict and implored him to keep writing and continue filming his low-rating Bolt Report to keep the Tory cause alight.

“[He] made me realise it’s not just about me,” Bolt told John van Tiggelen in his lengthy Good Weekend profile. “There are others to think about.”

Now, the coalescence has borne serious fruit. This morning on his blog, Bolt — continuing to suggest he is about to be re-persecuted  for writing about race issues — backed his friend and revealed he was “personally disappointed” with another mate, Melbourne Ports MP Michael Danby.

Yesterday, Danby, in a spree of media interviews (including Lateline) said he did not want “to go back to the darkness” of the mid 1990s when racial hatred against the Jewish community was spiraling out of control. He also noted that it seemed Coalition policy was being written by a cabal of right-wing “mates” like Clive Palmer, Gina Rinehart and Bolt.

Under 18C, introduced by Michael Lavarch in the mid-1990s, it is illegal to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” in public on account of their race or ethnic origin. Abbott has proposed using the common law provisions of inciting fear and hatred while protecting Bolt-esque “expression or advocacy”.

Crikey asked Bolt this morning whether he was happy with the mooted changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and whether he had met with Abbott or his office after the dinner detailed by van Tiggelen. He didn’t respond.

A serene David Marr, who is hunkered down finishing off a 25,000-word Quarterly Essay on Abbott following numerous face-to-face encounters, was less reticent. He told Crikey this morning he had texted his subject after yesterday’s name check.

“The answer to your question re Bolt and me is that I get my facts right. And while you and I don’t mind a bit of colourful language, we don’t go in for his grossly personal insults,” he said.

Marr said he agreed with Abbott’s take on the Racial Discrimination Act: “It’s perfectly correct that that particular section needs to be amended.” But in a nuanced approach, he says language which merely “0ffends” should not be illegal but that language which intimidates on the basis of race should remain so.

“I don’t think what Bolt wrote would be saved by Abbott’s law … It didn’t just offend. The judge found that it failed on all four grounds: it offended, insulted, humiliated and intimidated,” he said.

*Can you think of any other laws that Andrew Bolt should get changed? Email boss@crikey.com.au with your suggestions.

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64 comments

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64 thoughts on “How Bolt got Abbott to start the Freedom Wars

  1. klewso

    As long as Abbott is prepared to clean up after the sort of intolerance Blott nurtures, that’s fine.

  2. Apollo

    Good call from Marr. “offends” should not be in there but insulting, humiliating and intimidating people on the basis of race, sex, colour or religion is not on.

  3. klewso

    And let’s face it “freedom of speech” is much better when you control the megaphone?

    [A case of “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch their eyes out!” please?”

    And Danby’s a mate of his?

    Last night’s Q&A the politicians told us how awful it was the personal nature of “political debate” in this country, and how they don’t do it, before they started tearing strips off each other – “Where do the public get their awful attitude from?” Now one of those sides is “adopting” Blott – because he writes for them? Where indeed do “the public” get this confronting attitude from if not at the nurturing of the likes of Blott and his sponsors, from his pulpit?]

  4. geomac62

    What about the fact that Bolt didn,t do proper research and maligned people based on falsehoods ? I don,t think free speech is for changing the race of parents if that suits the agenda of an article but isn,t factual . Our little aussie Afrikaaner loves the spotlight but losing court cases isn,t his favourite way of doing it .
    I cannot comprehend why people pay attention to people like Bolt or Alan Jones but obviously they have an audience but its surely not entertainment so what is it ? The race oriented underbelly of sections in Australia I suspect . Must be a boring life if thats what floats their boat .

  5. Hindrum Cameron

    I find it a stretch at best to consider that this case was ever about free speech. Bolt was unstuck by his shoddy research. I suspect he thinks that research isn’t all that important when you know you’re always right, but anyone who actually considers himself a journalist will recognise and perhaps even acknowledge arguments that may challenge a given point of view.

    So the question here is: does Bolt consider himself a journalist? His methods need to reflect to this–changing the law so that he can publish poorly informed, badly researched invective as fact–which, let’s face it, is exactly what he tried to do with the article that landed him in court–is surely the worst example of cutting off our nose to spite our right hand.

  6. michael in melbourne

    I’m all for freedom of speech, but that doesn’t give people the right to say or write things that are factually incorrect and then to use those fallacies to push their own vested interest.

  7. drmick

    A responsible person would be embarrassed and remorseful at being proven to have offended, humiliated, insulted and intimidated anyone.
    Not this mob and their pin up boy. This behaviour is standard Noberal policy and is part of the limited news style guide. Mudrakes tactics in Britain were to break the law and they are determined to do the same here; barefacedly telling the people they are humiliating, intimidating, insulting and offending, that it is for their own good. WTF?

  8. Edward James

    There is a movement outlined on this site http://www.youmeunity.org.au/ calling for changes to those sections of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act 1901 to remove those parts which still discriminate against first Australians. Edward James

  9. AuFozzy

    Slightly off topic, I’m pleased to see David Marr writing a Quarterly Essay on Tony Abbott. He wrote one on Malcolm Turnbull just before he was deposed. Similarly for Kevin Rudd. I live in hope.

  10. Matthew Knott

    @AUFOZZY. FYI Annabel Crabb wrote the QE on Turnbull; Marr wrote on Rudd.

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