One of the most obvious features of the parliamentary inquiry into section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has been the volume of government agencies and government-funded left-wing interest groups that have contributed to the body of submissions.
These beneficiaries of government largesse are uniformly in favour of more government, and defending the existing prohibition of offensive, insulting, humiliating and intimidating speech contained in section 18C.
One of these is the Cyber Racism and Community Resilience Research Group, an initiative of the Australian Research Council (government body), in collaboration with the Australian Human Rights Commission (another government body), VicHealth (a state government body) and the Federation of Ethnic Community Councils of Australia (which receives financial support from the federal government’s Department of Social Services and Department of Health).
The CRaCR’s Chief Investigator Professor Andrew Jakubowicz wrote an article at the academic opinion site The Conversation (funded partly by the Victorian government) challenging the results of an opinion poll commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs published in The Australian on Tuesday. The poll showed that more people support removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from section 18C than those opposing that change, whilst 95% of respondents felt that freedom of speech was important to them.
Professor Jakubowicz attempted to debunk what the IPA was “selectively trying to slip through to the inquiry and the press”, by reading the underlying poll data the IPA published on the front of its website, submitted directly to inquiry members, and attached to a media release sent directly to the press.
Jakubowicz’s debunking can itself be easily debunked. The poll results about the attitude towards amending 18C are largely similar to other polls conducted in the last five months by Galaxy Research, as well as polling conducted by Essential Research not commissioned by the IPA:
The main distinction between the September and November polls and the most recent is that people have moved out of the ‘Don’t know’ category and picked a side in the debate. In the aftermath of the dismissed QUT students case, and media attention of the complaint against cartoonist Bill Leak, this is hardly surprising.
Unsurprisingly the Australian Human Rights Commission’s race discrimination commissioner Tim Soutphommasane enthusiastically tweeted a link to the article to his 16,000 followers, which in turn was retweeted by the AHRC to its 45,000 followers.
In Jakubowicz’s submission to the inquiry (submission no. 54), he refers to “sustained self-serving and misleading criticism of Section 18C by a minority of privileged public commentators.” If groups like the IPA are privileged public commentators, what does that make the groups funded and promoted by numerous state and federal government agencies?
Morgan Begg is a Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.
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