The debate currently raging in Australia about amending or repealing section 18C of its Racial Discrimination Act, 1975 is rather interesting.
DURING the recent election, Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Attorney-General George Brandis had pledged to repeal section 18C.
It all started after journalist Richard Bolt was found to have contravened the RDA in two of his articles written in 2009 and published in The Herald Sun and on its online site, titled “White fellas in the black” and “White is the new black”.
As reported in the case of Eatock v Bolt, 2011, Eatock had complained that Bolt’s two articles had conveyed offensive messages about her and people like her (that is high profile and fair-skinned Aboriginal people) in that they were not genuinely Aboriginal and were pretending to be Aboriginal so they could avail to the benefits meant for Aboriginal people.
Justice Bromberg ruled that the defences and exemptions allowed under section 18D of the RDA, such as if the act was done reasonably and in good faith for purposes of artistic work or public interest or making a fair comment, had no application because the articles contained factual errors.
Hence, this has now appeared to be the first task of the Abbott government, that is to remove this racial vilification law. In Brandis’ view, repealing section 18C would, in fact, strengthen and restore freedom of speech in Australia.
“You cannot have a situation in a liberal democracy in which the expression of an opinion is rendered unlawful because somebody else ... finds it offensive or insulting,” said Brandis in The Australian recently.
In other words, free speech is about allowing other people to say or write bad and rude things about you which you do not like.
That was exactly what Abbott said in August when he was the Opposition Leader: “If free speech is to mean anything, it’s others’ right to say what you don’t like, not just what you do. It’s the freedom to write badly and rudely. It’s the freedom to be obnoxious and objectionable.”