Danby and Section 18

November 19, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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Federal Labor MP Michael Danby has spoken in Parliament about the Government’s plan to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Michael Danby

Michael Danby

Danby’s statement in Parliament:

“The Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, loudly cheered on by News Limited and the conservative think tank IPA, are planning to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This section is of course the one that affected Andrew Bolt, the News Limited columnist, who was found to have breached it when he penned a column on light-skinned Aborigines. Despite the legislation having been in force since 1995—that is, invented and legislated under the conservatives—it was a case against the most-read blogger in Australia and probably the biggest supporter of Abbott which galvanised the Liberal Party into action.
Strangely, as an aside I noticed that the picture of Mr Bolt (below) was larger than that of Mr Abbott in the post mortem of the elections that was run in that newspaper.

Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott

Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott

But to return, I am not familiar enough with the details of the case to say that Mr Bolt was unfairly prosecuted. However, I do notice that some commentators on the Left—Bernard Keane and Margaret Simons—have criticised the decision.

A single controversial case does not make bad law. As Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane noted:

… 18C consists of an objective test that unlawful acts are those that are proven reasonably likely, in … the circumstances, to cause harm. It doesn’t apply to “mere slights” but must have

… “profound and serious effects.” Where people have fallen foul of section 18C, it has involved racial vilification of a standard that goes well beyond trivial name-calling.

It is not, as some from the Right appear to claim, a law specifically aimed at stirrers such as Andrew Bolt. There have been several very important cases in which 18C was used against some of the most disgusting peddlers of hate in our society.

Jeremy Jones, the former President of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the national Jewish organisation, used section 18C to win a landmark case against Fredrick Toben, Australia’s most notorious and persistent against-the-courts’-will Holocaust denier.

A cast of uglies who may be beneficiaries of proposed Liberal legislation changes
This legislation has also been successful against an infamous Tasmanian denigrator of survivors of the Nazi genocide, Olga Scully; against an Arabic language paper in Sydney that incited, with infamous references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion; and against a far Right political party that made the allegation that Jews created the internet to control information. I would like people who are on the internet to know that! According to Jones, without section 18C, we would not have had victories over Scully, Toben, One Nation or El Telegraph. In Jones’s words:

There is no rational argument that Australia is somehow ‘less free’ when bullies have consequences for their actions.

As Dr Soutphommasane said:

“The state of multicultural Australia is strong. There is now a high level of agreement that we should be emphatically proud of our achievements as a multicultural society.

As the doctor has also observed, a race hate attack in Bondi demonstrates:

“… racial vilification can escalate to racial violence. Our indifference can allow bigotry to breed, and encourage hatred to erupt.”

That is why we need to keep 18C.”

Attorney-General George Brandis told a senate estimates committee yesterday that he had consulted with leaders of ethnic communities. J-Wire asked his media department if he would elaborate on what criteria he used to select both the communities and the leaders. We have not received a response.

 

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