In a shock turn of events, the hunter has become the hunted in the Queensland University of Technology 18c case. Cindy Prior having lost her case against three QUT students accused violating 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act has now been ordered to pay over $200,000 in legal costs.
Prior, who had been employed by QUT in its indigenous computer lab, had accused several students of violating 18c when after being kicked out of the computer lab for not being indigenous they complained on a Facebook group saying, “QUT is fighting segregation with segregation”, “Where’s the white supremacist lab?” and “ITT niggers”.
Since the incident, the complaint has gone to the Australian Human Rights Commission, several students settled the case paying $5000 each and Prior has been on stress leave from her job ever since. This case that continues three years after the initial complaint should demonstrate why the courts are not the appropriate place to resolve complex social issues such as racism.
The QUT case has been a disaster for all involved, the QUT students have had their reputations muddied, faced financial ruin and had three years of their lives taken from them for at what at worst could be described as casual racism (or at best for defending themselves against reverse racism); Prior now has been ordered to pay a ruinous sum of money for pursuing her rights under existing law; the Australian Human Rights Commission has been exposed as being incompetent and its very existence is now at risk; the lawyers for QUT students will likely never see payment of their legal fees and even Prior’s lawyers have been humiliated both by taking the case and by their failure to understand basic legal proceedings.
Much attention has been focused on the QUT students and the arguments around free speech; however, Prior herself is also a victim of this case. She is a victim of a society that enables her to go on stress leave for two years after such a trivial incident. She’s victim of a rent seeking human rights industry that shops for victims. And she’s a victim of a society that tells us all that we’re fragile and need protecting.
Instead of having her victim mentality discouraged, it was enabled. What Prior needed was support in dealing with conflict and in understanding that not all Australians believe Aboriginal people deserve or should get special privileges – such as segregated computer labs. What she got was a Human Rights Commission all too ready to take her weak claims seriously. She got an industrial relations system that allows people to go on stress leave for trivial matters. All of these things lead her to her current situation. After three years reality smashed into the side of her victim mentality like a ship hitting a coral reef.
In Tanveer Ahmed’s book, ‘Fragile Nation’ he details a case where one of his patients was suing his former employer claiming workplace bullying because of some banter from colleagues who had sent him text messages saying, “You smell a bit like curry today. I bet your wife is a good cook.” Another said, “You’ve got a pretty good job, don’t ya … all the Indians I know are cleaners or in the servo.”
While this banter was neither funny nor appropriate it’s hardly the grounds for someone to sue their employer or suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. However, stories like this are all too common. Human resource departments are busy dealing dubious claims of workplace bullying, sexual harassment, racism, homophobia, transphobia and worker’s compensation claims.
People in our society have lost the ability to be resilient and are a far too quick to play the role of the victim. We’ve seen this with the rise of identity politics and the oppression olympics. After 20 years of being left out of these special olympics, white males are now joining in with men’s rights activism and a rise in white nationalism. A ‘Straight Lives Matter’ Facebook page can’t be too far way.
Fundamentally for all the progress our society has made against bigotry we still have some way to go. However, the court system is not going to solve society’s problems. Dragging people into court for trivial incidents and misunderstandings helps no one. Suppressing free speech helps no one.
Laws such as 18c actually have the potential to make things worse as they enable people to see themselves as victims and suppress free speech.
Imagine if three years ago Cindy Prior and QUT had explained to the students why they felt an indigenous only computer lab was necessary. Perhaps the students may not have accepted the explanation, but at least the conversation would have been more productive than this court case.
Justin Campbell is on the executive committee of LibertyWorks.