Piers Akerman remembers when Malcolm Turnbull was quite the crusader for free speech. Guess he listens too much to the ABC campaigning against it. Hope he’s listening instead today to Minister Josh Frydenberg.
18C of Racial Discrimination Act restricts freedom: Josh Frydenberg
Cabinet minister Josh Frydenberg says the QUT and Bill Leak cases highlight the need to remove the words “offend and insult” from Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination act.
Mr Frydenberg said that even though the QUT case had not succeeded and Australian cartoonist Mr Leak was likely to be able to use Section 18D as a defence in his case, the very fact that grounds existed for the cases to be brought showed the need for reform.
The Tasmanian branch of the Liberal Party yesterday voted unanimously to amend 18C.
“I think that the threshold with ‘offend and insult’ is too low,” Mr Frydenberg told Sky’s Australian Agenda.
In the meantime, Bill Leak fights back, the only way he can:
“It’s invited complaints. I think that a better balance can be struck. I don’t think it’s appropriate to bring cases against cartoonists even though some of their cartoons may be uncomfortable, so I think we can reach the objectives of preventing racial vilification, and at the same time preserving individual freedom and particularly freedom of expression and speech.”
Mr Frydenberg’s colleague Julian Leeser this week called for procedural changes to be made which would not alter 18C but would expedite cases such as the QUT or Leak cases.
Mr Leeser and Mr Frydenberg are both members of the Jewish community, much of which has vocally opposed changing 18C.
The Australian’s editor-at-large Paul Kelly has also discussed the idea of having stronger racial vilification laws but not using 18C in its current form towards that end.
Mr Frydenberg said the issue needed to be explained.
“No doubt the Prime Minister and others are giving consideration to that process, but the key point with the QUT case and with the Bill Leak case, is even if those cases were thrown out of court, and in the case of Bill Leak 18D might provide him with a defence, you’ve still got the problem that these complaints have been made in the first place, and that it does become divisive and it does become a major distraction,” he said.
“If you remove the words ‘offend and insult’, you remove the opportunities for people to bring cases based on the fact that they have hurt feelings.”
Mr Frydenberg said he was sympathetic to many people, including those in the Jewish community, who do not want to see changes to 18C.
“I can understand where they’re coming from, but I look at the practical outcomes of 18C as it currently stands, and I don’t think that is producing an optimal outcome for our community and that’s why I do support change, but we do have to proceed carefully in a considered way, and we do need to air and to ventilate some of the options that may be on the table.”
Mr Frydenberg said reform needed to be approached carefully, and the government needed to take the public with it on any proposed changes.
“At the same time, this is a very important issue. It’s not just an important issue for The Australian and the commentariat, it’s an important issue for the broader community. Freedom of speech is totemic for a free society.”
Challenged on the fact that there have been a number of cases where the “insult and offend” provisions of 18C have successfully been used in cases of anti-semitism, Mr Frydenberg said this was one issue on which he disagreed with the Jewish community, and that the words “intimidate or humiliate” which he believes should remain as part of 18C would be sufficient.
“I don’t think the words ‘offend and insult’ are there to protect against Holocaust denialism, for example, which you would never want to see a green light for an issue like that,” he said.
“I think community standards would prevent anti-semitism and you don’t need a hurt feelings test in order to run successful cases against anti-semitic views.”
Greens leader Richard Di Natale said proposed changes to 18C were a “solution looking for a problem”.
“I think most Australians don’t sit at home thinking, ‘my freedom’s being curtailed to go out and be a racist or a bigot’,” he said.
“I just don’t think it’s a conversation happening in lounge rooms. They’re worried about house prices, they’re worried about access to healthcare and education, and this is a solution looking for a problem.
“Why on earth do we want to make it easier for people to be racists? That’s the outcome of a change to 18C.”
Senator Di Natale said 18C was an insider debate, and warned Malcolm Turnbull against reopening it.
“Multicultural Australia came together to say we reject any change in this area, and I think it would be politically a very, very bad move to take this issue on again,” he said.
Here’s Piers Akerman:
OH, MALCOLM, oh, Malcolm, whatever happened to the young warrior for free speech that you once were?
Remember when you proudly embarrassed the British government in the Spycatcher case, humbling Her Majesty’s finest and winning the right for retired MI5 spy Peter Wright to publish his account of life in the service and break numerous confidentiality agreements he had with his former employer?
You fought and won a battle for free speech, you had a British government ban on the publication of Wright’s memoirs … tossed out…
Now, you’ve flipped. You’re in the corner of the discredited Australian Human Rights Commission and its disgraced president Gillian Triggs.
How has this come about, Malcolm?
The Australian Human Rights Commission has as much credibility as any of the tribunals appointed to enforce the official mindset of a totalitarian regime.
Professor Triggs … has now had what remained of her reputation shredded and disposed of by Federal Court Judge Michael Jarrett, who on Friday threw out a case she and her AHRC spent three years prosecuting against three unfortunate students at the Queensland University of Technology…
The three who refused to bow before the appalling AHRC, Alex Wood, Jackson Powell and Calum Thwaites, have suffered immeasurably from a sustained barrage of abuse as they fought to clear their names from false accusations of racism…
As Judge Jarrett found, Mr Wood’s Facebook post “just kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room”, was no more than an accurate statement of fact…
While this farce was being expensively pursued by AHRC under the leadership of the $400,000-a-year professor, she and her Human Rights commissioner Tim … Soutphommasane were actively pursuing Bill Leak…
What’s most egregious is that Prof Triggs has now demanded Leak file some sort of explanation about the cartoon she and [Soutphommasane] find most offensive…
Astonishingly there are even some media professionals so blinded by their obeisance to this new cult that they support the appalling actions taken by Prof Triggs to close down debate and punish those who don’t toe the party line…
But Malcolm, where are you? Vacillating.
I guess Turnbull does not dare fight for free speech now that the ABC, our biggest media organisation, is crusading against it.
(O)n ABC News Breakfast [on Thursday] Mohammed El-leissy decided to discuss Section 18(c) of the Racial Discrimination Act – following action taken against The Australian’s cartoonist Bill Leak for, er, drawing a cartoon in which a good (black) policeman returned a misbehaving (black) child to his bad (black) father. How racist can you get? Well, plenty – according to Mr El-leissy … :
Virginia Trioli: Lets come back to page one of The Australian, because the conversation around changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, and one section in particular 18(c), they seem to be gathering a bit of pace and a bit of force now.
Mohammed El-leissy: Yeah they do, and there’s been a big campaign in The Australian as well. This issue, it’s now going to go to the Human Rights Committee which will have an enquiry into it. It’s going to be a massive platform for these people who are critical of 18 (c). I think it’s really important again to stress the issue of 18(d). People keep forgetting about that.
Virginia Trioli: I’m so glad you said that – which is the corrective to 18(c), and which actually puts the brakes on any sort of, or gives defence in fact to those people who might want to push the limits on what’s allowed.
Mohammed El-leissy: But we’ve got to think about – what’s the purpose of criticism? It’s fine to criticise Muslims or Indigenous people or whatever. But you’ve got to do it with a purpose of changing. Not simply just criticising. They [i.e. the critics of 18(c)] don’t offer any alternative.
Virginia Trioli: And also on the basis of fact. It’s got to be factual –
Mohammed El-leissy: That’s right.
Michael Rowland: Yeah, 18(d).
Virginia Trioli: Yeah, so 18(d) is based in fact, and in good faith, which is the corrective there. Make sure people can actually make their criticisms if they’re reasonable.
Mohammed El-leissy: Yeah I’m just worried that it’s a response to Hanson-ism. That it’s just that we need to catch up with this stuff. And it’s not right I don’t think, yet.
Wasn’t it wonderful – just so wonderful – to see La Trioli agreeing with Mohammed and Michael agreeing with Mohammed as Mohammed agreed with himself – leading to the chorus: “There’s no problem with Section 18(c) because there’s Section 18(d)”. Yet 18(d) [had] not prevented three Queensland University of Technology (QUT) students spending three years defending themselves against the allegation that it is an offence under Section 18(c) to complain that non-indigenous students are prevented from using a vacant room set aside for indigenous students at a university.
The problem with 18(d) is two-fold. Most importantly, it rests on the assumption that there are a whole class of comments that must be banned unless you can think up an excuse. Guilty unless proven innocent. Second, you have to persuade a judge you have an excuse, which puts far too much faith in that person’s judgement of what’s reasonable or even factual.
Good on Minister John Frydenberg today for saying he wants the Racial Discrimination Act changed. He is pushing against the Cabinet line that the Government has bigger priorities.