Bennelong Papers

The Shame of Gillian Triggs

triggs loopy glareBefore Gillian Triggs’ Human Rights Commission threw in the towel and closed the complaint, she was reported in The Australian as giving Bill Leak a fortnight to prove that neither he nor his cartoon depicting an Aboriginal police officer speaking with an Aboriginal man who did not know the name of his son was racist. However, an elementary rule of logic is that the burden of proof lies with the claimant. Simply put, it was up to Triggs or anyone else who believes the cartoon is racist to prove that it is. Such a proof is near impossible, given that the cartoon illustrated the well documented problem of child neglect and abuse in the Aboriginal population.

For example, a federal government report in 2014 states, “The rate of Indigenous children who were the subject of a substantiation of neglect was 12 times the rate for non-Indigenous children.” This information is not offensive. It is not racist. It is not stereotyping. It is just a fact that some choose to find inconvenient. Given that the truth contained within the cartoon may not be to the liking of some, but definitely not racist, it is far easier for Triggs and others to cast the burden of proof for racism on to Leak.

The cartoon simply highlighted the plight that too many Aboriginal children find themselves in. But let’s forget about these children for a moment, as it seems most other people have forgotten about them. Let’s continue to give our attention to those who feel entitled to claim to be offended under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. While this part of the Act has been well discussed over the past few months, there are two aspects rarely discussed. The first is fundamental to the entire 18C debate: the unquestioned assertion that our words, ideas, and even our morning political cartoons, have the power to offend. I have written on this before. Actually, they are neutral, even if race is a salient feature of the ‘offending’ images or ideas. We as observers give the meaning to what we see and hear. Shakespeare so eloquently said it with, “There is nothing either good or bad but thinking makes it so.” That is why two people can hear the same joke and one yell “I’m offended” and the other laugh hysterically. The emotional response, whether it be offence or laughter, is in the listener, and not caused by the joke. If the joke was able to cause offense then all listeners would be offended.

Interestingly, if we are to be consistent in our application of the logic that the cartoon causes people’s offence, then why haven’t people come forth to say that the image of the Aboriginal police officer in the cartoon has also caused them to feel pride and joy? Perhaps we choose to see what we want to see?

The second aspect, and perhaps most neglected in this debate, is the great harm that validating someone’s claim of being offended does to them. To endorse the belief that the words and ideas of others cause offence, is essentially to claim that others have more power over our emotions than we have over them ourselves. This is an extremely disempowering message. Can Aboriginal people afford to be any more disempowered? Does the message, “Be careful! That cartoon can make you upset!”,  help them be the best that they can be? With laws like 18C we are raising a generation fragile as soap bubbles.

Now defenders of 18C may ask about those times when someone is truly setting out to verbally attack, as opposed to a well-intentioned idea (like Leak’s cartoon) which only ever depicted a truth that some found too inconvenient. The same logic described earlier applies. When faced with a verbal attack, the target does have a choice in how to respond. Because I have many critics who disagree with my views on Aboriginal affairs, I have been called a ‘sell out,’ an ‘Uncle Tom,’ a ‘coconut’ (brown on the outside but …) even a paedophile because I work for Australian Catholic University. When faced with such criticisms, I have the choice of either taking offence or laughing at my critics’ attempts to get under my skin. If I choose to take offence, I am essentially saying to my critics, “Your opinion of me is more important to me than my opinion of myself.” I would much rather my critics have the freedom to express their views than to have them silenced. I am confident in what I believe.

Now, last but not least, let’s return to what the cartoon was all about – the children. Rather than encouraging people to sue for hurt feelings, we should be focusing on helping those Aboriginal children who have hurt bodies; those who live in conditions that many of us would not let our pets endure; those who are more likely to be sexually abused and have no one to turn to. We cannot help these children if we are too afraid to talk about them for fear of being sued and labelled a racist. These Aboriginal children are Australian children and every Australian therefore should be allowed an opinion on how to help them without the fear of being sued.

30 thoughts on “The Shame of Gillian Triggs

  • says:

    It was reported last week, that we have more Aboriginal children being removed and put into care than at any other time. The implication being we are creating a new stolen generation, a claim which ignores why the children are being removed. Dare I say it? Thy were removed for their own protection.

  • mags of Queensland says:

    Anthony as usual you put things into their proper perspective but don’t expect to be given a fair hearing by the professionally and continually offended. When you get aboriginal activists and their coterie of hangers on claiming that any criticism of anything aboriginal is ” hate speech” you know you have an uphill battle. They’re not interested in the fate of these children, just in constantly pushing themselves to the fore so that any sympathy and willingness to help gets lost in the verbiage.

    The duplicity o0f the AHRC has been on show for some years now and it seems that no government has the guts to call a halt to a filed law.I felt, years ago, that when you start legislating on how people should behave then you automatically build in the consequences we have seen from this seemingly untouchable entity. There are already avenues that people can take if they feel that they are being victimized by others. We didn’t need the AHRC to take that role.The sooner this governemnt realizes that the general population don’t share Malcolm Turnbull’s view that free speech is not an important issue the better off we will be.

  • says:

    Thank you for another well written, fact laden article Anthony. I like your approach. Please consider standing for the senate in the future, Australia needs clear thinking people like you in it, rather than some of people who currently waste my taxpayer dollars with their nation destroying senate antics.

  • en passant says:

    Your article contains two dangerous and highly destructive ideas.
    If, as you say, we follow your logic then we have no need of the AHRC. This would throw a lot of highly paid people on to the real job market with (let’s face it) little chance of finding work. After all, what employer needs the permanently offended in their workforce? It would also bring these job-seekers into conflict with the Unions as they already fill that role.
    Secondly, if there are no endangered children we would not need all those child protection officers with useless Arts degrees. More unemployed and unemployable.
    Many years ago I managed an ‘adventure & leadership training’ organisation that took inner city youths from around the world into the Outback for 6-weeks. We offered two sponsor two aboriginal boys from a nearby settlement. The Department refused. What incensed me at the time was the line that ‘taking these boys into a different environment from that in which they live is likely to make them dissatisfied with their current situation.’ Actually, that was the point …


    Human Races are real genetic entities that evolve as a result of prolonged GEOGRAPHIC isolation eg africans, caucasians, indians, chinese and aboriginies. [Species, on the other hand, are genetic entities that arise as the result of a chromosomal earthquake, so to speak].
    Jews are NOT actually a race, just a religion, and here is the reasoning:- the distribution of genes in jews approximates the distribution of genes in gentiles in the same GEOGRAPHIC region:- there has been an enormous quantum of adultery, not just last week, but over three thousand years. [I am fond of Jews, my maternal grandmother was a Jewess].
    Stupid Australian Jewish Lobbyists, not understanding that they speak for a religion not a race, pressured Abbott to keep 18C.
    [I write as one who stumbled over and seized, in the few hours while it was still in front of me, in my own laboratory, the first gene in the human genome, which marks a major difference between caucasians and africans – rating an editorial in the New England Journal of Medicine].

    • says:

      If my understanding of genetics is correct the Caucasian “race” is the result of a minor mutation from the older aboriginal “race”. Therefore Mr Leak, as a part-aborigine, would have every right under Australian law to identify as aboriginal as every other part-aborigine here has.

  • Jody says:

    I think the Murdoch media has just about done Triggs. She’s a pariah now thanks to her taking on Bill Leak and “waking the sleeping tiger”. That, and the pro bono lawyer who is suing her on behalf of those UQ students. She’s all but finished. Now, to shut the whole thing down permanently….

    • says:

      No, no, don’t waste such a splendid target. Keep her there so we can continue to mock the arrogant woman. Besides, there is the risk that she’ll be given another post where she might do even more damage.

      • Jody says:

        Excellent point!! Exercise caution, then.

        • says:

          Excellent point ?
          Good grief – this is not the bloody coliseum – the HRC is not there for your damn entertainment.
          There are people actually suffering if not having their lives utterly ruined because of this evil woman.
          And we may never know how many.
          We would not know of the students, were it not for the pro-bono lawyer representation which allowed them the ability to fight back.
          “Don’t waste such a splendid target” eh.
          I suggest the author of that extraordinarily dumb comment waste no more neurons on this – as they seem in critically short supply.
          OTH , if it was offered in jest – retract it and consider a life outside comedy.

      • colroe says:

        Maybe already being mooted as next GG!

  • says:

    Another far-sighted artile, Anthony: “These Aboriginal children are Australian children and every Australian therefore should be allowed an opinion on how to help them without the fear of being sued.”

    Yes, indeed. Thirty-odd years ago, I analysed the records from a an Aboriginal mission/settlement, from 1860 to 1966. Over that period, 30 % of deaths were of children. I wonder if there are any researchers in Australia who would have the courage to examine the mortality records of any remote ‘community’ to ascertain the proportion of deaths which were of children. The records would be there, in every ‘community’.

    While domestic violence is horrific enough, I would suggest that violence against children, and their hospitalisation (for which there would also be comprehensive records) and mortality, would horrify most Australians, except perhaps those on the pseudo-Left. Kids are easy targets for drunks. Mobs of kids on the streets at two and three in the morning are not out there to admire the stars.

    As well, what might the incidence be of child suicides who have been sexually abused ? Let’s be more honest: raped ? Raped and ignored by their ‘communities’, the only world they know ?

    So when will agencies admit that remote ‘communities’ are in a death spiral ?

    Thanks, Anthony.

  • Jody says:

    Something tangential to this article. Today I watched again the film “Aunty Mame”, starring Rosalind Russell and made in the 1950s. Today the film would be subject to the most horrendous sanctions for its breach of political correctness, but it was made in a time (post WW2, ironically enough) when the Americans had a sense of humour. On so many levels the film offends and we shouldn’t be laughing!! Here are some examples of offense:

    1. Mame has an idiotic Asian servant who giggles all the time: racism and racial stereotyping/ridicule
    2. One of Mame’s friends is a theatrical type, an author, who is also quite effete: stereotyping and lampooning a sector of the society – artists;
    3. Reference to “restricted areas” in the neighbourhood of Mame’s nephew’s girlfriend: racist/anti-semitic/prejudiced
    4. Mame’s secretary becomes pregnant out of wedlock: sexism and bigoted attitudes towards women;
    5. Mame’s bank manager doesn’t want her nephew raised by Mame because she’s a ‘bad influence’ – sexism, prejudice, misogyny
    6. Mame tries several jobs and each is a disaster; sexism, ridicule based on gender; negative reflection of women as nurturers.

    On and on and on it goes! I wonder why I laughed so much???

  • RayB says:

    Excellent article, Anthony. It is a great shame (especially for the blameless child victims), that so few people involved in Aboriginal politics have vision as clear as yours. Of course, to report on what occurs in remote communities without wearing their activist blinkers, would quickly result in the loss of their lucrative careers feeding on the taxpayers teat.

  • says:

    Since Labor PM Bob Hawke established the HRC in the 80’s a Liberal PM should be assertive enough to remove it, and not before time!

  • says:

    There is this professor by the name of Triggs,
    Fearless and clueless,
    Bitter and useless,
    Hopefully, at last, at the end of her wits.

  • Warty says:

    It seems that the whole ‘stolen generation’ narrative has become deeply embedded in the ‘progressive’ consciousness. To even suspect that it may have been done to protect the children, is to cause offense, and of course, one would have to be aboriginal to fully understand.
    As you no doubt remember Nova Peris, who when she resigned from the Labor Party and parliament said “until you are an aboriginal person, do not criticize me for the decisions I have made”. She also went on to say “Aboriginal people have no inherited wealth. They have inherited pain”.
    The first statement: “until you are an aboriginal person . . .” is about identity politics i.e you cannot know what it is to be like a black person, a homosexual, a woman, unless you are either black, homosexual or female. Her second statement if about ‘grievance politics’. Both have been bandied about by the ‘progressives’ and mainlined into aboriginal communities, to the point that they genuinely feel they (the aboriginals)originated these ideas

  • Warty says:

    My apologies, I clicked the red button before finishing.

    What the second statement is in effect saying is that we are unable to protect ourselves, fend for ourselves, strive to better ourselves, to make ourselves healthy, wealthy and wise, because we simply have inherited pain and are stuck with it. She may not realise it, but ‘inherited wealth can be a disadvantage. Far better to have striven for one’s rubles, rather than to have them given.

  • says:

    Great article Anthony! But too nice to the despicable Triggs.

  • Meniscus says:

    Very important questions to ask: who funded Prior’s QUT, section 18C matter? Was taxpayer money involved? Will a journalist out there take this up?

    “Just stop and think about that for a minute: the case was nowhere near trial, yet it had already managed to drag on for three and a half years (of which a little bit over a year had been taken up in the Federal Court) at significant cost and stress to the respondents. Just imagine if it had been allowed to proceed to trial.

    So who funded her? Was it the HRC? Was it some other entity funded by taxpayers? A white knight? Or are we to really believe that this receptionist had a cool half million or so just lying around with nothing better to spend it on than this delightful little jaunt?”

  • Dave Price says:

    Being married to an Aboriginal woman and having a daughter and three grandsons who identify as indigenous I have always been concerned with the way political correctness encourages racism. The Communist state of Yugoslavia never allowed its citizens to work through the pain caused by the horrific crimes committed in that country in the name of ethnicity, culture, language and religion during the second world war. So once the iron fist and the thought police (Don’t mention the war) were removed in the early nineties the horrors were repeated (your grandfather did this to mine and now I’m doing it to you). So now we have Donald Trump as leader of the Free World and the mad ones on both the left and right are coming out of the woodwork. In the old eastern goldfield towns of Western Australia the failure to deal with the publicly obvious criminality of a minority in the Aboriginal community is bringing back the old style, meat headed racism that we told ourselves was gone forever from our towns. The idiotic actions of the PC thought police have kept a tight lid on a very hot pot and now it is starting to boil over. I have been campaigning for years against the bone headed PC suppression of free speech. I have a sinking feeling that I am going to have to put as much effort now into campaigning against old fashioned bone headed racism that I wanted to believe was gone forever. The revival of racism is the worst outcome of decades of stifling political correctness. Another apt Shakespearean quote ‘A pox on both your houses’.

    • Patrick McCauley says:

      Exactly – Dave Price – suppression of free speech creates the pressure cooker effect – the old ‘bone headed’ racism around Katherine NT in the late 1970’s was a different beast altogether than this new ‘racism’ the young uns are getting all offended about. Maybe there’s a bit of racism about in the Aboriginal community now which is viewed a payback … a ‘pox’ on that house too.

  • teetwoh says:

    Roger Scruton in Fools, Frauds and Firebrands said the onus has long been thrown on conservatives whereas one might have thought the one seeking change has the onus to show change is needed or would be better. This pivotal issue of who bears the onus, is one often conveniently ignored by the left. A system where the accused bears the onus is to turn a basic dogma on its head.

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