Leading article Australia

We won’t shut up

3 November 2016

3:00 PM

3 November 2016

3:00 PM

The last few weeks – and the last few editions of The Spectator Australia – have seen a flurry of articles and editorials about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Lest there be any doubt, this magazine will not stop talking about these few sentences of legislation until they are repealed, and until Australians can talk and draw and write and indeed think about controversial issues without the spectre of state sanction.

But it’s not just the Act in question that is pernicious and has to change. Indeed, the case of cartoonist Bill Leak highlights three problems, only the first of which is the specific wording of section 18C. Which, in case we haven’t been banging on enough about it, makes it ‘unlawful’ to do anything publically which ‘is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people… because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin.’

Obviously intimidation should be illegal, as it is in every state and territory. But offending people, insulting them, and even humiliating them for whatever reason, should never be regulated by the government, whether they are motivated by racism or by any other animus.

Of course, the Racial Discrimination Act doesn’t just purport to protect hurt feelings; it also creates the sinecure of the Race Discrimination Commissioner within the Australian Human Rights Commission, which goes to the second problem: Tim Soutphommasane. This entitled little mandarin (and just so we’re clear and don’t get hauled before the man himself, it’s the colonial civil servant usage that we have in mind here!) is to racism what Joe McCarthy was to communism. He invents racism, he scares people with wild accounts of racist monsters under the bed, and he tells racial minorities that they’re victims whose only solution to life’s problems is to have their feelings hurt and to acknowledge that they’ll amount to nothing without the intervention of his boutique quango. After drumming up complaints about Bill Leak on social media, the decision to open a formal investigation into his cartoon came as a surprise to no one.

But let’s pretend for a moment that section 18C is not a repugnant tool of Marxist ideologues. And let’s imagine that Commissar Soutphommasane is only doing his job. We are still left with the bigger problem of what racism actually is. Unfortunately, the Left has hijacked and trademarked what has become part of the grotesque apparatus of progressive identity politics. To this way of thinking, Leak’s cartoon is utterly offensive, suggesting as it does that white people are not wholly responsible for the awful plight of indigenous Australians, and that a partial solution exists apart from the welfare state. Or in the parlance of the Left, it was ‘racist’, meaning that aborigines should be offended by it, and it should therefore be unlawful.

The once freethinking Left gave renowned human rights campaigner Ayaan Hirsi Ali similar treatment last week, albeit without the force of law. The softly spoken, Somali-born former Muslim who, like Leak, has faced jihadi death threats for her trouble, made the Southern Poverty Law Centre’s Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists. While we can think of numerous Speccie contributors who will no doubt be disappointed their name doesn’t also appear, it is an insult to Ms Ali (perhaps she’ll sue?) and an affront to Muslims and non-Muslims working to combat actual extremism. But say anything against the religion de rigueur, and an extremist is what you are. Name the elephant in the room when it comes to systemic aboriginal violence, illiteracy, unemployment, poverty and mortality rates, and a racist Murdochian bigot is what you must be.

But however they’re described, we will stand up for their right – and the right of all Australians – to talk and draw and write and indeed think, especially about controversial questions.

To join James Allan’s online petition for the repeal of 18C, go to spectator.com.au/2016/08/show-that-you-really-do-believe-in-free-speech

 …and nor will they

Speaking of ‘shutting up’, the following comments by Indonesian Defence Minister General Ryamizard Ryacudu deserve Australia’s condemnation, not acquiescence. ‘Those countries better keep their mouths shut and mind their own business… If it was left up to me I would twist their ears.’ The General was referring to the bid by the Melanesian Spearhead Group to include West Papua, which Indonesia opposes. As Esther Anderson points out in this issue, WP separatist aspirations should be debated, not criminalised. The General’s remarks are disturbing.

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