Australia does not have a bill of rights, or a broad concept of “freedom of speech”. What we do have is a narrow concept of freedom of political communication. This is a right enforced by the High Court of Australia who ruled that it is implied by the wording of the Australian Constitution.
Our implied right of political communication is a result of our democratic process of government. The constitution states white clearly that the Australian Parliament is to be elected by the people. The High Court adds to this that for the people to elect a government, it is necessary that they are able to be informed, and to inform others, on who they think ought to be elected. This means the freedom of political communication extends to a range of issues which might inform ones vote.
Freedom of political communication is not an individual right, but rather a bar against the government passing laws which would restrict the people’s communication on political matters. This freedom is not absolute; it is a freedom that aims to fulfil a purpose. Speech which undermines the purpose which the freedom of political communication is there to protect can be prohibited by law and those laws will not be held invalid. The Racial Discrimination Act, for example, is held to be compatible with freedom of political communication.
The emergence of two new political parties in Australia, the (anti-Muslim) Australia Liberty Alliance and the (pro-Muslim) Australian Muslim Party, will no doubt generate a lot of legitimate political discussion. There is also a serious chance that some people’s political discourse will slide into hate speech. Even without such an overt clash of values, between a party wishing to represent a minority and engage in Australia’s political process, and a party opposed to them, we still have plenty of examples of political speech crossing the line.
OHPI has previously written about Facebook pages calling for former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to be killed, and for former Prime Minister Tony Abbott to die. Now we have another example of hate speech targeting a politician, this time from the Greens.
The page “Scum Sucking Bottom Feeder Senator Sarah Hanson-Young” (ID: 504544602903937) was created on 1 November 2012.
The page claims it was “created to voice our disgust at this low life using our money to waste time in Parliament crying over Illegal Immigrants. But her or the Government give no thought or tears for the Soldiers killed in Action giving her that very right”. The sentiment being expressed, to care more about keeping Australian soldiers safe and less about protecting people abroad, is a legitimate view point on a political matter – whether or not one agrees with it. The manner in which it was expressed, not just in this post but in the creation of this page, is another story.
The way this page calls an elected representative of the Australian people a “low life”, “scum sucking bottom feeder” and “Teasonist Scum”, are only a few of the many problems with the way this political view was expressed. The page goes on to attack refugees, referred to on the page as “refos”. Just to be clear, refugees are those people who are escaping pursecution and who have been found to have a right under international law to be resettled. Refugees have brought an awful lot to Australia.
A BRW feature in August 2013 tells the story of two refugees taken in by Australia: Huy Truong went on to found wishlist.com.au a company generating over $30 million in revenue when it was bought by Qantas in 2011; Tan Le went on to be a telecommunications entrepreneur, co-Founder of bioinformatics company Emotiv, and the 1998 Young Australian of the Year. Other famous Australian refugees include Frank Lowy, Anh Do and Dr Karl Kruszelnicki. Sunrise discussed these last three in a program on great Australia refugees in July.
The pages view of refugees displaces nothing more than racism, xenophobia and ignorance.
While the page’s admin has been inactive for almost 2 years, since January 2014, the page not only continues to exist on Facebook, it continues to attract comments and supporters. The most recent comment is from just two weeks ago, it includes an image that says: “No Aid, No Trade, No Travel to Islamic Countries”. The user who posted this image is a fake account, recently created, and which is used to like a large number of anti-Muslim page such as “Australians Against Islam – AAI”, “Restore Australia”, “Ban Islam”, “Aussie Infidels”, “Crusade Against Islamisation of The World” and many more. This fake profile is also a fan of the Australian Liberty Alliance.
As we see all to often, when the person being targeted is a woman, the attacks rapidly start to involve misogyny. This graphic example posted as a comemnt to the page came from another fake account. Half the page this fake account likes are anti-Muslim, the other half are focused on sharing pictures of women. The “Patriots Defence League – Adelaide Chapter” is found beside “Booty of the Day”, while the “Anti-Islam Alliance” sits above “Sexy Girls – Almost Nude”. This fake page is also a fan of the Australian Liberty Alliance, not to mention the “United Patriots Front – Bendigo” and the “Australian Defence League”.
Other comments were sexual explicit, suggested she should be dead, involved slut shaming (where a woman is critisized for her real or imagined sexual activity), and in come case suggested women were unsuitable to be in position of power (citing sexist views from over 70 years ago).
Content like this crosses the line from political content into abuse which is of no value to the act of informed voting. Pages like this which are unmoderated, or poorly moderated, and generally inactive, should be closed by Facebook. You can help us take action on this page by reporting it both to Facebook, and to our FightAgainstHate.com software. This allows us to keep a count of how many people have lodged a report with Facebook.
Reporting to Facebook
1. Load the page click this link
2. Click the “…” and select “Report Page”
Reporting to Fight Against Hate
1. Copy the address of the page i.e. “https://www.facebook.com/ScumBottomFeederSenatorSarahHansonYoung”
2. Login to FightAgainstHate.com using your Facebook login by clicking the button
4. Select the category of Misogyny, for the page itself we believe trolling is the best choice. For some of the comments, which you can report seperate to Facebook and then to FightAgainstHate.com, other categories may be more approrpiate.
5. You will be returned to the main page and a message at the top of the screen will confirm your report has been registered.
Please help us share this briefing so more people can report this page. We’ve also just passed the 20,000 supporter milestone on Facebook, if you haven’t liked out page please join us in taking a stand against online hate.