Federal

Mar 21, 2014

On race, discrimination and white men’s privilege

White men don't face racial discrimination. Advocates of reforming the Racial Discrimination Act should acknowledge their own privilege, and be more consistent in defending free speech.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

Yesterday we looked at the basic argument behind the prohibition on racial vilification in section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act (RDA). That prohibition is followed by section 18D, which provides for exemptions to 18C. Defenders of the RDA insist the exemptions are so broad that only the most egregious cases end up being prosecuted. That may be true, but misses the point that no exemption can make the restriction on free speech in 18C legitimate if it isn’t already so.

The exemptions in 18D are important for another reason. They exempt “anything said or done reasonably and in good faith” in the course of artistic, academic, scientific, or journalistic work (both reporting and commentary, if it’s the expression of a “genuine belief”). There’s also a catch-all “any other genuine purpose in the public interest” exemption.

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17 comments

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17 thoughts on “On race, discrimination and white men’s privilege

  1. Humphrey Bower

    Bernard, this is an excellent opening-up of the issue, especially by pointing out that free speech is currently the privilege of those who have the power to exercise it rather than, as it should be, a right for all. I agree that the Racial Vilification Clause needs to be modified to remove subjective provision like ‘insult’ or ‘offend’. I also agree with your broader point that free speech (and conversely I would add privacy) are currently under renewed siege (especially in the age of the internet as your excellent articles on intelligence make clear). However I don’t agree that ‘movement in one area makes it easier to push for reform in others’ and that ‘we need to take what we can get’. As you rightly point out in your previous article, there’s a difference between insulting or offending people and humiliating or intimidating them, and I believe that the latter can be adjudicated with a reasonable degree of objectivity and should be legislated on as a fundamental breach of human rights. This is where your forensic intellect as a journalist needs to cut and separate the issues. Best, Humphrey

  2. Sean Stephens

    Crikey at its best. Ripper of an article.

  3. klewso

    Freedom of speech is fine, when you get to edit it.

  4. David Penington

    Some good points, especially the Ewen Jones references.
    There was a great day for free speech in the 1990’s when a protester was acquitted of “Offensive Language” charges in a Brunswick (or Melbourne) Magistrates court, on the grounds that calling Jeff Kennet a “wanker” (to his face) was legitimate political comment!

  5. Desmond Carroll

    Incisive piece, elegantly constructed.

    Fraternal congratulations.

  6. Mary

    Thank you. I agree with Humphrey Bower’s comments. I have a wish that we stick to truth and wisdom and the old saying ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ which might eliminate some of the unpleasantness that we seem to have to legislate against.

  7. rhwombat

    Mary: The essence of privilege is the ability to do to others without repercussions. Bolt and his fellow lackeys resent getting called, because, as white males, they assume privilege. It’s called entitlement.

    Good piece BK.

  8. bushby jane

    Go Mary! I agree about the ‘do unto others’ bit. Pity people like Tim Wilson didn’t think about that a bit more when he whined that he didn’t want anyone to be nasty to his boyfriend because of his pursuit of ‘free speech’ (and abolishing 18c).

  9. Griffiths Karen

    I recently read an ‘article’ by bolt that asserted the ABC’s 7.30 report had ‘accidentally’ revealed the truth about asylum seekers]. ACCIDENTALLY! The implication/suggestion from bolt was that the ABC ‘forgot’ to manipulate the message and had somehow left in footage that went against their bias toward the ‘left’. No they didn’t bolt-the ABC reported the facts as they unfolded. The ABC engaged in journalism, presentation of the facts, the truth, both sides of the story, unbiased reporting etc. In fact, the ABC did not engage in editing any of the footage so that the truth was there for all to see. How sad that you interpret honesty as a victory for your idealogical dishonesty.

  10. AR

    Nice to point out to that most white blokes have almost no experience of racism but there is a quick & simple way to get a taste of bigotry apart from ‘coming out’.
    During the faux furore following Gillard’s misogyny speech, it was suggested that anyone who wondered “what’s the fuss” asked any woman they knew (well enough) to tlk about their worst experience of sexism – then LISTEN.

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