The Racial Discrimination Act 1975, as it stands, stifles free speech, and limits the capacity to solve social problems because discussion has to be so carefully expressed that it becomes useless.
There are changes proposed that would remove the clause that allows a person to make a complaint because they feel 'offended.' In other words, because their feelings are hurt. Unlike the laws against slander or libel, being factual in the 'offensive' statement is no defence.
The changes retain and strengthen the law against incitement to violence against a person because of his/her race, and against intimidation.
This is what is proposed:
Attorney-General for Australia
Government Media Release, 25th March, 2014.
Minister for the Arts
Senator the Hon George Brandis QC
Racial Discrimination Act
Particularly important points:
In essence, the changes to the act would mean that a person or group cannot complain merely because they feel offended or insulted.
The act as it stands, does indeed limit free speech.
It limits little things - I was standing next to my fishpond, and talking aloud to the goldfish. One was black, and I said something like, 'Hi there, black feller.' Now 'feller' is just a casual term for a male, and black, of course, because it was black. But then I cringed. Had the Aboriginal family next door heard? Would they be offended? They shouldn't be - there's nothing wrong with being a 'blackfeller,' not a thing to be ashamed of, nothing to be insulted about. And yet, they could claim offence and it could even be feasible to make a complaint.
How very silly.
It also limits big things. There are some very big problems among specific races and cultures now in Australia, some home grown, many imported from overseas. The first requirement of attacking a problem is to define and to understand the problem. That cannot be done if people cannot air the facts in case someone claims to be offended.
Sun columnist Andrew Bolt outside court. |
Photo: Vince Caligiuri
The proposed changes came about after the commentator, Andrew Bolt, was deemed to have broken the law when he wrote about fair-skinned people who choose to identify as Aboriginal.
Andrew Bolt’s article (2009) has not been reproduced here in case it gets me into trouble as it did Andrew Bolt. In essence, it points out that claiming Aboriginal heritage, no matter how far removed and unlikely, can give real advantages to those who choose to do so. There are jobs and there are awards in the arts only open to Aboriginal people. Bolt named several individuals who have received such advantages even when their Aboriginal heritage is not readily apparent. I’ve seen claims that there were factual errors in what he said. Maybe there are, maybe there are not.
He was sued. He lost the case.
Here are two examples from my own personal experience
A few years later, she made her claim that she was Aboriginal. This was 1980s, almost as ‘politically correct’ a time as now. It would not have been acceptable for the government employee who looked at the claim to demand further proof than a statement by herself and by her acquaintance. And it certainly would not have been acceptable to point out her fair skin and red hair, or the fact that she was never known as Aboriginal as a child and nor were her parents.
So her claim was accepted, she did some sort of course in Aboriginal Counselling, and then applied for and was appointed to a well paid government job that had been set aside for Aboriginal applicants only. It only lasted a couple of years – I don’t know why.
Some cultural practices are bad. Simply bad. Some defend the mutilation of the genitals of girls, for instance, by saying it is 'culture.' Forced marriage, underage marriage - aspects of culture.
The ideal length for a bound foot was three inches
But what if it was happening now? Would we be afraid to speak of it because that would imply that the Chinese culture was inferior?
We must be able to discuss problems. We must be able to discuss other cultures and what they do right and what we find very wrong. We have to be able to breathe freely. This amendment is sensible, it is just, it is needed.