Blog Archives

A Way to Look at Racial Discrimination

In political circles, s18c of the Racial Discrimination Act is one of the hottest topics. Out in the broader community, it is not exactly high on the agenda. But the government is seemingly moving towards repealing that section of the Act. Indeed, it was one of the commitments made by the government when in opposition.

If the government were to break their promise, and not repeal s18c, they would lose no political skin. The government is still talking about a repeal of s18c of the Act however, though the final outcome may not end up being the removal of this part of the Act. There does appear to be mixed messages from the government.

Both sides of the debate have been passionately advocating their respective positions since the policy was announced. Sometimes that passion has been overly emotional. Nuanced and dispassionate consideration of the issue at hand has often been lacking, with the full repeal advocates and those in favour of the status quo being the loudest participants.

As you would imagine, the issue has been hotly debated on the various political panel shows for some time. And that debate has continued to accelerate in recent weeks, including on The Drum and Q&A last week.

There was a mostly mature discussion of the subject on both programs. The political class, the politicians in this case on Q&A, did get a little more emotional than those closer to the periphery of political debate, the guests on The Drum. 

And then there was the social media commentary from the politically engaged. Twitter, as it often does, played host to a whole new level of angry and emotional consideration of the topic.

From the Twitter discussion last week, I learned that privileged, white, middle-aged males in particular have no right to take offense at any kind of jibes directed towards them. However everyone else is, in the eyes of a number of people on Twitter, allowed to seek comfort from the law. White privilege apparently means that no laws are required.

This is a problem. It is a problem because we live in what is supposed to be a liberal democracy. Granted we do not always get the application of liberal democratic values right in our society, but we are, for all intents and purposes, at the very least in name, a liberal democracy. That means that everyone is supposed to be equal before the law. Everyone is to be treated the same by and under the law.

When it comes to the section of the Racial Discrimination Act in question, I have been on quite a journey. I have held a few positions since the court case involving Andrew Bolt, which started us on the journey to the debate we are having at the present time.

At first my largely libertarian and liberal politics came to the fore. I thought that section of the Act just had to go because, well, free speech. It was a very absolute position. How could anything else possibly amount to free speech I thought.

Then I thought about it some more when I heard David Marr speaking on one of the panel shows on television. His position was that the part of the Act being debated should be altered.

At present, someone is in breach of the Racial Discrimination Act if they engage in behaviour which ‘offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates’.

David Marr has argued that the first two words: ‘offends’ and ‘insults’ are too subjective. The threshold there is indeed too low. A higher test should apply to the Act, and at the time I thought that Mr Marr’s thinking struck the right balance.

But again in recent days I have reconsidered my position. I have begun to think that the word ‘humiliates’ should be removed from the Act. The word seems to me to be so similar to the first two that it is an unnecessary part of the legal test for discrimination.

I do however think that the word ‘intimidates’ needs to be retained in the legislation. Essentially, racial discrimination and vilification in its purest sense is behaviour which intimidates the victim. It is the very foundation of true hate speech and has no part in a civilised society.

In short, we should have laws against hate speech. However, neither the status qu0 nor the proposed alternative position are adequate ways of dealing with what is a very complex issue.

It is worthy to note too that no single characterisation of the Act, either considered here or elsewhere, will eradicate discrimination. However, a legal remedy must remain available for when discrimination and vilification has been found to have occurred.

How Not to Start an Election Year

It has not been a pleasant week for Katter’s Australian Party, losing two candidates because of hate-filled comments in both the traditional media and on social media website, Twitter. And it would not have been a particularly good week for the gay and lesbian community in Australia, the target of these unhinged outbursts vilifying gays and lesbians. Now the Katter party candidate for the Victorian electorate of Wannon, Tess Corbett and Queensland Senate nominee Bernard Gaynor, a former party national general secretary, will no longer be representing the party at the 2013 federal election.

The first unforgivable, hateful and just plain baseless barbs came from Tess Corbett. The lower house candidate made the headlines for comparing homosexuals to paedophiles and added that it would be a sad day if equal rights for gays and lesbians were granted.

There is absolutely no chance that if homosexuals were given the right to marry, that paedophiles would naturally be given the right to marry children. For anyone to actually suggest that just beggars belief. Where was Tess Corbett found? There is no politician in the history of this country that would have ever countenanced such a move, let alone a majority of parliamentarians in the present day, ready to legalise such a heinous criminal activity.

Tess Corbett, in making such a statement, is quite clearly comparing or at the very least implying, that being a homosexual or engaging in homosexual sex is akin to a criminal act. In case she has not yet noticed, the latter has been outlawed for a while, though granted, it took Tasmania a little while longer than the rest of the country to repeal laws relating homosexual sex. But still, that battle has long been lost.

And then, as if Tess Corbett’s comments were not hostile enough towards the GLBTI community, Queensland Senate hopeful Bernard Gaynor chimed in with some textual diarrhoea. After an earlier tweet backing Tess Corbett after her comments to the media, Mr Gaynor said:

“I wouldn’t let a gay person teach my children and I’m not afraid to say it.”

This tweet at first glance appears to be linked to the debate over whether religious organisations should be allowed to discriminate against the gay and lesbian community in terms of employment. But other tweets make it clear that Gaynor believes parents should have the right to choose whether or not their son or daughter is taught by a gay or lesbian.

Whether a teacher is gay or lesbian will not make a shred of difference to the way a child is taught at school. The curriculum is the curriculum whether the teacher in question is same-sex attracted or not.

And Bernard Gaynor seems concerned too, by implication, that if his son or daughter had a gay or lesbian teacher, they might somehow magically persuade them to be of the same sexual orientation. Well, to put it in the clearest possible terms, being gay is perfectly natural. No amount of lessons from a gay man or a lesbian will transform anyone’s son or daughter into someone attracted to people of the same gender.

Katter’s Australian Party has a history of taking an anti-gay rights stance. Before the Queensland election the party ran an ad campaign which railed against Campbell Newman due to his personal support for same-sex marriage.

To top it all off, the party’s namesake tonight made a ridiculous statement on The Project tonight. Bob Katter claimed he was unaware of any homosexual having committed suicide in north Queensland. He also claimed not to care about the issue. Of course, Bob Katter has a history of wedging his foot firmly in his mouth, so we really should not be surprised.

Without a shadow of a doubt, Katter’s Australian Party are the most socially conservative political party, even to the point of being regressive in their views on the matter.

The rights that the gay and lesbian community have won, particularly over the last 5 years should not be threatened by any political force. We should all be equal under the law.

Thankfully, the electoral prospects of Katter’s Australian Party were not particularly good in the first place. In Queensland, where they had expected to do well electorally they only managed to have two candidates elected to the state parliament.  Then one LNP MLA defected just recently, making the party a band of three in the 89 seat Queensland parliament.

That’s not to say that the party will not go without success at the election. It is certainly a strong possibility that the new party will taste victory in a Senate contest or two, perhaps more. There might be success for Katter’s party in the lower house too, other than Bob Katter winning in Kennedy. Support anything like the levels reached in Queensland is however, almost certainly an impossible prospect.

The election year drama, faux pas and discriminatory statements have already started. There is still at least six months of these unedifying events ahead.

%d bloggers like this: