The Australian has produced more than 134,000 words on section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in the three months since the publication of that Bill Leak cartoon. To put that in perspective, that is more words than are in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, George Orwell’s 1984, or Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says “elite” media organisations like the ABC keep bringing up 18C as an issue for public discussion, but The Australian has produced enough words on the controversial section of the Racial Discrimination Act to fill a novel.

[The nine-step Bill Leak outrage cycle]

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The national broadsheet valiantly took up the now-dismissed case of students from Queensland University of Technology facing court over comments made after they were kicked out of an indigenous student-only computer lab, but it found an even better case closer to home after complaints were lodged against cartoonist Bill Leak over his depiction of Aboriginal parents in the wake of the Four Corners episode on the Don Dale detention centre and the subsequent royal commission announcement.

The QUT case and the Leak case sparked editorials, news articles, opinion pieces, and enough pressure was brought to bear that Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced last week that there would be yet another review into 18C. Yesterday he said Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs would not have her contract renewed next year. Suffice to say the Oz has never been short of copy when it comes to this particular issue.

A Crikey analysis of stories written by journalists, editors and columnists at The Australian about 18C between August 4, when the original Leak cartoon was published, and today reveal the publication has produced 178 pieces on the matter, including 94 news stories, 84 opinion pieces, and 30 articles that made the front page. In total, there have been 134,569 wordson 18C since August — and the publication was obsessed with the RDA even before the cartoon was published.

[Bill Leak almost certainly breached 18C, but he has a rock-solid defence]

There were 26 articles before the first complaint against Leak was filed, 60 after the complaint was filed, and so far seven articles since one of the complaints was dropped.

The total word count is more than George Orwell devoted to the thought police in 1984 (88,942), and more than Harper Lee wrote about race in To Kill a Mocking Bird (99,121), but clearly repression isn’t the only lasting philosophy, with The Australian‘s word count just slightly less than Charles Dickens’ The Tale of Two Cities (135,420).

The libertarians are unlikely to be pleased until it meets Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged‘s word count of 561,996.

Both the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce have admitted that 18C is hardly an issue being discussed around the dinner table at night, but no doubt as the parliamentary inquiry continues and the hard right of the Coalition pushes for changes to the Racial Discrimination Act the race to beat Tolstoy’s War and Peace (587,287) will grow tighter.

Updated: Corrected Sun Tzu authorship

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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