Press Release: A climate of terror and fear

Our condolences go to the victims of the terrorists attack in London. Our admiration goes to the British PM who in the face of a terrorists attack on Parliament still had the conviction to speak out not only against terrorism but also for the values democracy seeks to protect, including both human rights and free speech. “We will all move forward together, never giving in to terror and never allowing the voices of hate and evil to drive us apart,” British PM Theresa May said.

Unfortunately Australia seems to be going the other way with the Senate yesterday seeing the introduction of a bill to water down the Racial Discrimination Act. [To take action on this, see below!]

OHPI’s CEO, Dr Oboler explained, “The bill, if passed, will see the meaning of racial discrimination limited to acts that ‘harass or intimidate’, effectively making incitement to hatred lawful in Australia. It would mean only racism targeting a person directly, for example by sending it or saying it to a victim, would be covered. Racism that creates a climate of exclusion for parts of the community or denies human dignity to whole segments of the community by promoting negative stereotype about them would not be covered. We are particularly concerned that simply publishing racism content, for example publicly online, would become lawful.”

“Take for example Aboriginal Memes which caused an uproar in Australia in 2012, and have since been used as an example of online racism by a UNESCO report on free speech. That would become lawful. The promotion of Holocaust denial online would be come lawful. It be unlawful under the proposed changes it would not be enough that someone published such content promoting hate, they would have to use it to harass someone, for example sending it to a victim. Holocaust denial was the subject of the first  court case involving a breach of S18C on the internet, the case was Jones v Toben and involved a website promoting Holocaust denial. The case took 20 years to go through the courts. Under the proposed changes that hard fought victory for the values Australians share would be undone and such content would become lawful. The proposed changes are a serious watering down of the law.” Dr Oboler explained.

The move by the Australian Government seeks to promote the interest of those who want bigotry to be lawful in Australia so they can abuse vulnerable minorities without consequence. The Australian public has been ignored and mislead. The Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Speech found that there was misinformation and confusion over what the law was and in it’s first recommendation pushed for education on the current law. Instead the Government is continuing to misrepresent the current law and confuse the public. They are proposing a solution to a non-existent problem. The existing bar under S18C is high enough to already prevent cases like the much talked about QUT case being successful in court. There is no evidence of the law as it stands now working in correctly. This whole matter started because Andrew Bolt was rightly found by a court to have breached S18C, and he wants his racial abuse of Indigenous Australians to be retroactively made lawful by his mates in Parliament. The Australian Government is seeking to go against the people for ideological reasons and they are seeking to do so rapidly before civil society can mobilise against this attack on human rights and human dignity. The coalition party room is clearly out of touch with the community where 90% of people support the law as it is. They are attacking shared Australian values such as a fair go for all. They are emboldening the voices of hate that seek to drive us apart. They are far out of touch, even after an inquiry in which the views of the public, and the latest research on the impact of racism and danger in changing the law, was communicated to them clearly. 

The British PM stood up in the face of a deadly terrorist attack on the grounds of the Parliament to say the terrorists would not win. Life would go on. No room would be given to those seeking to undermine the values of democracy. No room would be given to those wishing to divide the community and promote hate. British politicians were punished for pushing their ideological bandwagons against the will of the people in the vote on Brexit, political leadership in the UK changes as a result. In Australia, the recent Western Australia election showed that a hug swing against the government is possible here as well. It should serve as a reminder that Australian politicians will be held accountable by the people at the ballot box. It doesn’t matter how long the wait is until the next election, the scars from the repeated efforts to attack our shared Australian values are now running deep and will not be forgotten, particular by multicultural Australia which in this country is the majority of the population.

Dr Oboler also explained that, “The Online Hate Prevention Institute does significant work on countering violent extremism. We are cited in the Parliamentary report on freedom of speech warning of a real danger if a signal is given to far-right groups that incitement of racial hatred is seen as acceptable by the Parliament. The Government is sending such a signal with the proposed changes to the law. The emboldening of extremist elements on the far right as a result of that is a threat to national security. That threat could manifest as a terrorist attack or another Cronulla style race riot. It could manifest tomorrow or in the lead up to the next election. The decision of politicians in the liberal party room has undermined the safety of all Australians. It is something no Australian is likely to forget if that threat manifests.”

As Australians the vast majority of us don’t believe in the promotion of hate and fear. We believe in respect for all. We believe in addressing the wrongs of the past and recognising the profound impact racism has on affected segments of the community. We recognise the science that shows racism having an impact on people’s health and life expectancy. We recognise racism’s silencing effect on the freedom of speech for many in our community. We believe in a democratic system of government in which politicians are elected by the people and are accountable to them. We believe the reckoning for politicians comes at election time when we reflect not just on the plans the candidates present for the future but on their track record in representing the interests of their constituents. The attack on the British parliament was an attack on democracy. It was an attack on our shared values. It was an attack on representative government. Let’s pause and reflect on why representative democracy is important and on what it means.

The proposed change to the law will we hope be defeated in the Senate thanks to Labour, the Greens, the Nick Xenophon Team, and Jacqui Lambie. We hope to see more Senators, particular those on the cross benches like Senator Hinch, taking account of the Parliamentary Inquiry into Freedom of Speech and voting with and not against the Australian people. The impact of the liberal party room decision will likely have some impact all liberal representatives in all houses of Parliament across the country. It has made race a partisan issue in Australian politics and even if it is defeated in the Senate as we expect, the values expressed by the joint Liberal-National party room in their decision to proceed with this are unlikely to be forgotten. The onus will be on liberal representatives who stood against the party’s position to publicly say so in order for their constituents to judge them on their own values not those their party appears to hold. 

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is not a political entity. Our goal is to prevent harm from online hate. We see a clearly link between the actions of one political party and a serious risk of a rise in online hate with resulting harm to individuals ranging of increase mental, emotional and physical harm through to an increased risk of acts of violent extremism. We have a mandate to highlight that danger to take steps to seek to prevent it. We hope reminding all politicians of their accountability to their electorates will have some impact in reducing this harm. We hope highlighting our shared values, and that a fair go for all, and not the right to abuse others, are part of those values. We hope the Government will stop stoking the flames of extremism and putting the safety of Australians at risk, this is entirely in their own control specially when the accelerant they are throwing on the flames is for little more than gesture politics.

Dr Oboler commented that, “Politicians should not be putting the health and lives of Australians at risk to push ideology against the will of the vast majority of Australians. They should be standing up for our shared values, despite any pressures against that, just as we are seeing in the UK right now.”

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