Freedom of speech

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act

The early part of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act reads as follows;

(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

For many Australians, Tony Abbott’s abandonment of the efforts to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act brought enormous disappointment. For the first time in years, a direct and concrete opposition was to be presented against the surge of political correctness that has engulfed elements of Australian society. The consensus in the Liberal party, was that the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ should be removed from the legislation, whilst keeping ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’. It is of great shame that the proposed changes did not continue, as the word ‘offend’ can mean just about anything. The level of offence a person may feel in any given situation is completely subjective on any number of factors. The concept of offence is extremely vague, and damages the ability for a person to make any reasonable criticism directed at a minority group without fears of breaking the law, thus threatening free speech.

The implications of this inadequate and improper law were revealed in 2009, when Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching the Act, in what was regarded to ‘offend’ people in response to a fair critique of Indigenous entitlements. Whilst it is important there are some protections against hate speech, the level to which it is protected in Australia is excessive, stifles debate and contradicts some of our self- described values.

Aside from the vagueness of the Act, the over- emphasis on protection against hate speech is a somewhat flawed notion. There are many forms of hate speech, however in our society hate speech in the form of racial discrimination is singled out as being important. This position, held by many Labor/ Green politicians and their supporters, is unfair as it ignores the other instances of hate speech. If a teenage girl can be bullied into committing suicide over being called ‘ugly’ or ‘fat’, how can this form of speech be overlooked by individuals waiting for an instance of racism to pounce upon. A comment degrading an individual’s performance at work or in sport can also be highly offensive.

Australia does not need further protection of hate speech, and it is crucial to not focus excessively on the grounds of race. As much as possible, we should seek to create a country that operates regardless of the variance in races, instead of drawing it to attention and dividing us.

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