Twits or Tweets?

Once, when young children lost their first tooth, they would leave it in a glass of water for the tooth-fairy, before they went to sleep. With a bit of luck, the next morning the tooth would have gone and in its place would be a silver coin. One has to wonder what Andrew Bolt left in his bedside glass of water, because the truth-fairy was certainly very busy this week. Thank God for The Australian newspaper. 

If you rely on your news from Fairfax, the ABC or SBS, you would be blissfully unaware of the Shakespearian saga that unfolded this week in the aftermath of the Andrew Bolt trial. The trial had hardly ended when the highest profile of the nine complainants, Professor Larissa Behrendt, virtually blew the case out of the water when she attacked fellow Aboriginal, Bess Price, by tweeting to a fellow bourgeois progressive; “I watched a show where a guy had sex with a horse and I’m sure it was less offensive than Bess Price.”
The show Larissa Behrendt was referring to is the semi-pornographic, Deadwood  – being screened on ABC2. The show that the inoffensive Aboriginal social activist, Bess Price, appeared in was ABC1’s Q&A

Andrew Bolt’s crime was to question the issue of what Bess Price calls “white blackfellas” in two articles published in the Herald Sun newspaper and on his blog. The issue Bolt wrote about, and was taken to court over, came to trial under the Racial Discrimination Act presumably as legal tussle between “freedom of thought and expression” verses the right “not to be offended”. This is not the first time that freedom of speech and thought has run into big trouble in this country. 

In 1984 Professor Geoffrey Blainey, possibly the nations’ greatest historian, and most unfortunately for him, a member of the non-ideological school of historical study, ventured an opinion that a dramatic change in immigration policy was leading towards Asians becoming a “favoured majority” from the numbers of people seeking permission to live in Australia. From memory, Professor Blainey was addressing a Rotary Club in the town of Warrnambool. 

The occasion saw Professor Blainey dragged before an unofficial court of his academic juniors and pilloried for his observations. One of the leaders of the pack was, the now, Professor Henry Reynolds. The verdict of the academic court was academic banishment, character assassination and peer non-speaks. (Yes, the year was rather Orwellian). 

In his own defence Professor Blainey said, in 1984: 

I see no alternative — if the evidence so requires — but to offer conclusions that are unpalatable to one’s own assumptions and preferences … What I’ve essentially said on immigration is unpalatable to me, but it seems closer to reality than to say what is more palatable to me. 

Another to be charged and dragged before an academic court was Keith Windschuttle who had the audacity to publish in 2002 The Fabrication of Aboriginal History (Van Diemen’s Land). Again the issue of “the unpalatable”, in the eyes of Windschuttle’s attackers, seemed to be of more importance that “the truth”, and the freedom to express it. The Grand Inquisition that followed the publication of The Fabrication of Australian History, led by Robert Manne and, of Blainey-trial fame, Henry Reynolds, totally fizzed — except on the campuses of various Australian universities, and in the latte breaks of bourgeois progressives. 

As with the attacks on Geoffrey Blainey and Keith Windschuttle, the compliant press, with the exception of The Australian, failed miserably to latch onto the concept of the freedom of speech and expression, and instead wallowed in the discomfort of those under attack. The attack on Andrew Bolt, with a few notable exceptions, was totally negative and again gave the impression that the issue was a person speaking “the unpalatable”, rather than a person’s right to present evidence and express an opinion based on that evidence. 

And of course what Andrew Bolt uncovered in his “offending” article, was the actual racism involved in the current unpalatable question of what the Aboriginal, Bess Price, has called “white blackfellas” and their place in Aboriginal society. What Andrew Bolt suggested in his articles, has now been revealed as a fact of life, for bush Aboriginals, thanks to the good work of Larissa Behrendt, and Deadwood—and the horse. 

What Andrew Bolt questioned was exposed by Michael Connor in his 2005 book, The Invention of Terra Nullius, which drew attention to the squabbles between various Tasmanian Aboriginal groups as to who was and who was not an Aboriginal person. But the main thrust of Connor’s book was the issue of terra nullius and its use in the Mabo case. Again there was a fierce attack on the author of this work; led by guess who? None other than Professor Henry Reynolds. There is a pattern developing here! 

As the Larissa Behrendt saga unfolded, with cutting-edge thoughts by Gary Johns and Aboriginal academic Marcia Langton, there was one other “tweet” that needs to be considered. Padraic Gibson an “academic” at UTS and colleague of Larissa Behrendt tweeted the following: “ha! Being offensive pays. BessP and her white husband make a $packet$ doing ‘cultural awareness’ for NTER.” 

Is this racism? Is the remark about Bess Price and her “white husband” racist? Is the slur aimed at an Aboriginal woman actually running a business racist? Is the statement “Being offensive pays” offensive, degrading and likely to offend? 

Gary Johns in the Australian article, where he recounts his reservations about the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and the Racial Hatred Act 1995, says: 

According to the HREOC, the victims perspective is the measure of whether an act is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate. For example, if derogatory comments are made against Aborigines, the central question is whether those comments are likely to offend or intimidate an Aboriginal person or group. It is a subjective test. 

The big question is whether the HREOC is going to take action against Padriac Gibson? Has Bess Price’s white husband been offended? Has Bess Price been offended? Is anything that Andrew Bolt written anywhere near as offensive as the twittering of Larissa Behrendt or Padriac Gibson.  Again, will the HREOC act?  

Wouldn’t bet on it! 

One of the unfortunate bits of unfinished business of the Howard government was the failure to disband the HREOC and repeal the Acts that support it. The HREOC has been a total failure outside the narrow ideological and politically correct mindset of its Board and employees. Ask the battered women and children of dysfunctional bush camps and Aboriginal townships? 

Ask them whether, during the recent visit of the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, James Anaya, just how many black-eyes, bruised bodies, broken limbs and sexually abused women and children did he treat and comfort, as the HREOC crew took him around the dysfunctional camps and indigenous townships? That was Bess Price’s original point on Q&A

Perhaps Larissa Behrendt could tweet us the answer? 

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