andrew-bolt
Andrew Bolt leaves court in 2011 (Image: AAP/Julian Smith)

Is Andrew Bolt actively trying to fall afoul of the Racial Discrimination Act again?

In the space of a week Bolt has called two young POC writers “hysterical race hustlers”, and taken aim (yet again) at Dark Emu author Bruce Pascoe’s Indigenous identity.

And now, in a particularly vile piece, he’s argued that “tribalism” has made Australia weaker, because some of the suburbs in Melbourne experiencing a spike in COVID-19 cases have an above-average number of overseas-born residents. Treating a gap in his knowledge as a conspiracy, he adds:

Just what kind of families are involved, neither the government nor the Ethnic Communities Council will say.

As Crikey reports elsewhere today, to the extent ethnic families are over represented in the current spike, it’s a complicated mix of government blindspots and poor communication.

Of course, fact-checking and nuance aren’t what Bolt is about. His Pascoe attacks are almost 100% based on a single anonymous website — “Dark Emu Exposed” — whose rambling length, random use of bold and obsessive focus on one person exemplifies a style we like to call “PS I am not a crackpot“.

Bolt spent March and April insisting the threat of COVID-19 was “wildly exaggerated”. He expressed no theories on the cultural differences of cruise-takers, and he was silent on the affluent Aspen holiday makers — indeed, he now singles them out for sympathy in this piece, approvingly quoting one woman: “If we lived in Box Hill and I’d been to Bali no one would care”.

Now, a second wave gives him the merest whiff of a racialist angle, and suddenly it’s life and death.

And as ever, there’s a wink to something much, much nastier that he’s willing to make explicit. Complaining on his show about “special concessions” made in communicating public health material to populations with English as a second language, he throws in the phrase “pre-literate material”.

Again: is the heightened pitch of his recent culture war debris a serious attempt to get himself sued under 18C again? Hear me out.

He must look back at those two sneering, error-riddled missives about “political Aborigines”, and the court case that followed, as the happiest days of his life.

Primarily, it allowed Bolt to preen as the face of martyred free speech — remember him on the ABC being asked if there was anything he wanted to add, just saying “yes” and letting it hang in the air suggestively? Fabulous stuff.

He had people who would otherwise be debunking his unlettered nonsense conceding there probably shouldn’t be legislation that governs terms as subjective and personal as offence and insult.

He got the prime minister, a political party and much of the conservative media to take up his cause. It must have been a glorious time.

What’s happened since? The movement to amend 18C on Bolt’s account collapsed and fell into a grave no one visits.

It was a “Canberra bubble” issue if ever there was one, unpopular with voters to the extent they thought about it at all. And of course, reformers were unable, or unwilling, to tell us exactly what they wanted to say but couldn’t.

Perhaps it was tough convincing people that 18C did much to reign in free speech given what else has happened in the interim. The relentless focus on “African gangs”; the TV career and reelection of Pauline Hanson; the slow, then sudden, recrudescence of fascism in mainstream Australian politics and media (to say nothing of what has happened overseas); the ongoing career and happy retirement of Alan Jones.

You could say all this reflects a win for Bolt and the reactionary right, as does Australia’s lack of a meaningful climate change policy and the slow bleeding out of the ABC.

Which might be why, paradoxially, in recent years, his writing jumped from the beer and wine aisle of Australian prejudice (anti-Indigenous and anti-Muslim prejudice) to the crystal meth of anti-Semitism and jibes about a 16-year-old girl’s mental health.

It also might explain the recent particularly nasty personal attacks on Bruce Pascoe, Osman Faruqi and Michelle Law.

Because Bolt’s innate posture — and that of the people he speaks to and for — is one of self-pity. Unlike, say, Tony Abbott, there is very little nostalgia in Bolt’s conservatism. It is simply victimhood.

The brave truth-teller who can find no worthier opponent than migrant families and bullied gay kids, crying “you can’t say anything anymore” while his employer pays his legal bills and he turns out three blog posts a day.

And nothing has better validated the sense of victimhood that animates Bolt that being dragged through the courts for his “ideas”.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

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