Nov 7, 2016

The 18C hypocrites wilfully ignore other threats to free speech and the actual public

While the Prime Minister panders to opponents of the Racial Discrimination Act, much worse threats to free speech go unmentioned.

Bernard Keane — Politics editor

Bernard Keane

Politics editor

David Leyonhjelm
It's heartening that, since the end of August, Australia's economic and fiscal challenges have apparently been solved. That's when Scott Morrison correctly observed that changing the Racial Discrimination Act "doesn’t help me pay back one cent of debt, it doesn’t help me reduce the deficit, it doesn’t help me get one more person in a job, it doesn’t help me get welfare under control or improve the tax system." Now, seemingly, revisiting section 18C of the RDA is a much higher priority for Malcolm Turnbull and his government. "There's a lively debate," the Prime Minister said this morning, and said a parliamentary committee might be the government's way of pursuing that debate. One wonders which crossbench senator the government would like to chair such a committee, given Labor, NXT and the Greens are opposed to any change and Senate references committees have non-government chairs. Perhaps there'll be a House or joint committee inquiry -- which will disappoint the host of 18Cistas in the Senate who'll miss out on a spot. Maybe, in their disappointment, they can go hold another inquiry into windfarms or fluoridation. In fact there is no "lively debate". Not in the community, which is not merely uninterested but most likely unaware of the issue, and certainly not in the pages of The Australian, which is obsessed with the issue -- all it runs are op-ed attacks on 18C (almost invariably failing to mention s.18D), supplemented with hostile stories by its journalists. But it is, by and large, an exercise in grand, sickening hypocrisy from privileged white men. Section 18C remains highly problematic from a free speech point of view, not to mention from a simple common sense point of view. But it's also so far down the list of threats to free speech in Australia -- what little that we have -- that you need binoculars to see it. Our defamation laws -- and the efforts of some conservative parties to extend them to corporations -- remain the greatest example of a chilling effect on free speech and a free press. Mass surveillance laws have bolstered the capacity of security agencies like the Australian Federal Police to pursue whistleblowers -- to the extent of raiding Parliament to track down leaks to politicians and journalists. The chilling effect, again on both free speech and a free press, is palpable. In contrast, there's little evidence of any chilling effect from 18C. Nothing prevented One Nation -- a party whose raison d'etre is racial vilification -- from electing not one, two or three but four senators and nearly a fifth. Nothing prevented the re-election of Jacqui Lambie, a serial Islamophobe. No evidence of any chilling effect on bigoted cartoonists -- who in any event are protected under section 18D. No evidence of any deterrent effect on TV "personalities" who attack Muslims. Where are the 18Cistas on the much greater threats to free speech of defamation law and data retention? Not merely silent but -- David Leyonhjelm excepted -- complicit in the much greater threats to free speech. Any government minister opining about the threat of 18C was part of the Abbott government, which introduced mass surveillance -- led by Turnbull and George "people have a right to be bigots" Brandis. Let's also not forget Brandis' role in the harassment of Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, for the important revelation that ASIS illegally bugged the East Timorese cabinet. So too, Tony Abbott, born-again advocate for 18C amendment, who presided over mass surveillance laws and the regular referral by his ministers of leaks to the Federal police, whose job of tracking down whistleblowers is made significantly easier by those very laws. Nor is there a murmur about fixing Australia's draconian defamation laws, around which every media industry employee must carefully work, suppressing facts and entire stories for fear of litigation -- litigation an increasingly unviable media industry fears more than ever. But it is privileged white males who mainly benefit from those defamation laws, enabling them to shield themselves from scrutiny by the media. And it is primarily privileged white males who occupy positions of institutional power within government that benefit from mass surveillance laws and the shield from scrutiny that those laws help afford them. Conversely, 18C doesn't benefit privileged white males. We don't endure racial vilification or religious intolerance -- in fact we're usually the ones dishing it out. If we do experience racial or religious abuse, it has minimal relevance for us -- our privilege, our status, protects us. Even in 2016, western societies are still structured around the needs and desires of people like me. Vilification? We couldn't care less about being vilified. And yet which threat to free speech does the Right, and its cheerleaders at The Australian, seize on to demand change? Which one does the Prime Minister nominate as a "lively debate" worthy of parliamentary investigation? The serious threats to free speech from which white privileged males benefit, or the more minor one that benefits people unlike us?

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11 thoughts on “The 18C hypocrites wilfully ignore other threats to free speech and the actual public

  1. Hugh Harris

    If you agree 18C is a free speech problem then why not agree it should be changed and advocate to also change defamation laws, and other limitations on free speech.

    I suppose there are more clicks in repeating the phrase”privileged white males” five times, and branding people (you evidently agree with) as racist.

    1. andrew

      But they are racist. And privileged white men are the problem.

    2. Decorum

      Or maybe, if you’re genuinely concerned about free speech and freedom in general, you would start by concentrating your efforts on the most egregious violations. The fact that these Warriors of Liberty do not do this but, rather, start with the one trivial issue that might be most likely to impinge on them invites the inference that genuine concern for freedom is not actually what drives them.

      You’re looking for self-interest in the writer, HH, by alleging clickbait, but you can’t see it in the his subjects (even though it was pretty clear that this was the whole point of the article.)

    3. Matt Williams

      BK isn’t saying they’re wrong, he’s saying they’re hypocrites. There’s a difference

      1. Hugh Harris

        What’s the air like up there in Smug Tower?
        A bit thin, perhaps. Making you sound like Daffy Duck. Don’t spit on the poor, dumb, sheeple, now.

  2. Hunt Ian

    18c only needs some procedural changes to prevent vexatious claims like those against some students, which were recently dismissed as baseless under 18c but cost the students a lot. In itself, it is a good stop against the Hanson’s of this world, who want the “free speech” enjoyed by the NSDAP (National Socialist German workers’ Party) during the years of the German Weimar Republic until 1934, when suddenly the free speech of communists, socialists, and liberals was suppressed and the hate propaganda against Jews was stepped up. This played its part in preparing Germans of the time to participate in or turn their gaze from arguably the biggest crime in history (with Genghis Khan’s annihilation of the Samarkand Empire a possible competitor).
    Apart from procedural changes, the only other change to 18c that could be defensible is to make it clear that what matters is not the occasional insult or humiliation on racial, ethnic grounds etc but continued insults.
    As Bernard says, the real killers of freedom of speech in Australia are ignored, while we have some nonsense from Lleyonhelm and Hanson designed to protect their insults and humiliations of muslims, who pose no threat to a truly liberal (no connection whatever with the illiberal “Liberal Party of Australia”) Australia, which would be prepared to tolerate religious beliefs that tolerate other religious beliefs. The only threat is posed by strands of religious belief that do not tolerate alternatives to their faith. This is a serious threat and we should even tolerate forms of surveillance to prevent faith inspired violence that should be unacceptable in peace time.

  3. Karen

    So, let’s see, rich men can hide behind defamation laws to prevent themselves from attack but be allowed to attack minorities with impunity by getting rid of 18C and keeping 18D of the RDA. Is that what the Oz and those ‘wingnuts’ that the Oz is prosecuting? Why would any rational person support that?

  4. Hugh Harris

    It’s actually privileged white women, not men, writing in the Australian about 18C. Jennifer Oriel and Angela Shanahan.

    But let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good bit of manufactured outrage.

  5. Yclept

    If it’s so important, maybe we should have a plebiscite…

  6. AR

    A bit cut’n’paste, cliched boilerplate BK, too much use of the hot key which allows the HHs among us to respond dumbly.
    Apart from that, you were being too kind to the mudorc’s myrmidons – they surely cannot believe the tripe they write, to order.
    Save us from meretricious mediocrities; as Hannah Arendt observed the real evil was done by the weak, avaricious inadequates who otherwise would be lucky to have Good Soldier Schweik’s civvie street job.

    1. Hugh Harris

      Wow. What’s the air like up there in Smug Tower?
      A bit this perhaps. Is that why you sound like Daffy Duck?
      Don’t spit on the sheeple please.

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