“… may unleash a darker, even violent, side of our humanity which revels in the humiliation of the vulnerable”.
In this assertion Soutphommasane is energetically supported by Colin Rubenstein of the Australian/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, who is reported as saying that the commissioner was “right on the money”.
Section 18c is the rarely invoked ‘sleeper’ that caught out Andrew Bolt when he dared to suggest there is something fishy in fair-skinned Australians claiming Aboriginal ancestry … and winning art-awards meant for underprivileged Aboriginal artists. Awards that were funded by tax-payers, just by the way. Bolt was found at fault by Judge Mordecai Bromberg in September, 2011, for questioning this situation… and the “tone” he used in his writing.
The nub of Bolt’s offending article was whether people with almost indistinguishable European appearance (and distant Indigenous ancestry), could claim to be Aboriginal—and claim the ensuing government benefits. A fair question you may think? Wrong. Nutdon’t don’t ask it. Section 18c, which critics claim infringes upon Australian’s right to freedom of speech and freedom of expression, makes it an offence for an act, if:
“…the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people”.
Last year, Tony Abbott took to the Federal election a promise that this offensive section would be repealed. The Sydney Morning Herald told its readers on the November 8, 2013, that the legislation was about to be tabled in Federal Parliament — yet nothing has emerged. Pressure not to act is being applied to Attorney General George Brandis, and Soutphommasane’s speech at the ANU, where he delivered the Alice Tay Lecture, is part of this pressuring process.
Most of the objection to repealing or altering Section18c, which Judge Bromberg used so effectively against Andrew Bolt, has come from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Soutphommasane, former Labor Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and Colin Rubenstein of the AFJIC. One might wonder, ironically, if Soutphommasane’s suggestions that Australians have “a darker, even violent, side to their humanity” and that that we “revel in the humiliation of the vulnerable” are, in effect, an insult that is “reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” the Australian people. Logically, this would seem beyond doubt. See how tricky Section 18c can be? It has no loyalty even to the hand that feeds it.
One might also venture the question: Where, exactly, is the evidence that this nation has “a dark side” and a “violent side” to its “humanity”?
Further, from the Jewish perspective, why is it that Colin Rubenstein and the AIJAC are so fearful of Section 18c being repealed? One might have thought that a country which had no problem giving command to its army during WWI to Sir John Monash (possibly the first Jew to command an army since Roman times), might have just a tad of humanity. Monash not only led Australian troops on the Western Front but also became the first soldier in 300 years to be knighted on the battlefield.
Perhaps there was something “dark and violent” in our humanity that allowed us to appoint Sir Isaac Isaacs the first Australian-born Governor General (1931-1936). And there was certainly something odd about us when we allowed his elevation to barrister, politician and judge — him being a Jew and all! And of course some fool in Australia recommended him to the King for a QGCB & GCMG. Later, our “dark and violent” side decided give the top job to Sir Zelman Cowan AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC. From Rhodes scholar to Governor General. Some ‘humiliation of the vulnerable’, that was.
Our ease with Jews started with the First Fleet, when perhaps a dozen Jewish convicts enjoyed free passage to Botany Bay. Jewish convict Esther Abrahams seems to have had little trouble as the wife of short-term governor of the colony George Johnson. Sydney locals also enjoyed the company and merchant services of Barnett Levy, the first ‘free’ Jewish settler, who in 1833 started the colony’s first legitimate theatre, the Theatre Royal, and a lending library to boot. It has been said that he sacrificed his health and fortune to bring the arts to NSW.
I don’t seem to have noticed many people not shopping at Myer because the family were Jewish, nor many children being stopped from watching Blinky Bill because Yoram Gross had a Jewish mother and father. Australians did not boycott meat from Smorgon or cardboard from Richard Pratt. Jewishness never stopped us listening to the music of George Dreyfus (Mark Dreyfus’ father) in the TV series Rush, or love of the piano as played by David Helfgott.
Fools that we are, we keep giving the top jobs to people like Jim Spigelman, QC, making him Solicitor General of NSW, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW and Lieutenant Governor of the same state. Then, damn it, we gave him the ABC to run — well, sort of run it, given that the national broadcaster is very much under the control of its staff.
If you enjoyed the film Exodus and actors Paul Newman, Woody Allen, Richard Dreyfuss, Harrison Ford, Bette Midler and a thousand more entertaining Jews; if you take pride in Australia’s part in the founding of Israel; if you love their writers and the kibbitzing Jewish mothers who gather in that great little restaurant in St Kilda— well, Colin Rubenstein’s endorsement of the racist comments about the Australian character made by Tim Soutphommasane is shameful and appalling.
The worst aspect of Section 18c was actually summed up by Judge Mordecai Bromberg himself. In paragraph 25 of Bromberg’s summary of his decision, he states;
“In balancing the process, I have also taken into account the silencing consequences upon freedom of expression involved in the Court making a finding of contravention.”
Of the thousands of words in Judge Mordecai Bromberg’s judgement nailing Andrew Bolt, he dismissed the most serious repercussion of his ruling. In Bromberg’s words (emphasis added):
“I have taken into account the value of freedom of expression and the silencing consequences of a finding of contravention against Mr Bolt … Given the seriousness of the conduct involved, the silencing consequence appears to me to be justified. The intrusion into freedom of expression is of no greater magnitude than that which would have been imposed by the law of defamation…”
Unfortunately, since the Bromberg judgment, and as a direct consequence of it, there has been virtually no public comment about the issues raised by Andrew Bolt. The vexed issue of what constitutes Aboriginality is unresolved in law — we have only judicial opinions and bureaucratic notions for guidance.
Why the Australian/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council is leading the charge against the repeal of Section 18c is unclear. What is clear is their notion that a law making it illegal to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ is somehow better than maintaining articles 18 and 19 of the UN Charter of Human Rights guaranteeing freedom of speech, expression and thought. Pick one or the other, but you cannot have both!
As newly appointed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson stated in The Australian in relation to Soutphommasane’s outburst, “Repealing Section 18c sends a clear signal that every Australian has the right to free speech, but that they can be brutally judged by their peers for abusing that speech.” Wilson also said: “The current design of the Racial Discrimination Act encourages society to sweep racism under the rug, to immediately avoid confronting and challenging racism as it occurs.”
Yes, it’s called “silencing” and its consequences upon freedom of expression are dire.