The underlying problem the Government is facing over changes to the Racial Discrimination Act is that it still doesn’t understand the point the Judge was making in the Bolt case. It still doesn’t understand what Bolt did wrong. They don’t understand the danger to the social cohesion of Australia that comes from actions like Bolt’s. They don’t understand why past Parliaments in their wisdom, acting in responding to the internation concensus that led to the creation of the International Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, passed the Racial Discirmination Act in the first place.
The problem for the Government is that the Court was right when it found Bolt had acted unlawful and it is impossible to create an exception that makes what Bolt did acceptable without also making a range of other undesirable and dangerous content legal as well. Content like Holocaust denial, to give one example, or Aboriginal Memes to give another.
As the judge explained in the Bolt case: “People should be free to full identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying… disparagement directed at the real or imaged practises or traits of those people [i.e. the people racially abused] is also destructive of racial tolerance”. This was never about insults or hurt feelings.
The judge also found that Bolt’s articles were intended to be “destructive of racial tolerance”, he said that the “reasons for that conclusion have to do with the manner in which the articles were written, including that they contained errors of fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language”. The point was not that Bolt got some facts wrong, it was that this was part of an overall behaviour designed to use people’s race as a way to attack their character.
Bolt’s articles were not just insulting to those they attacked, they posed a real threat to the social cohesion of the country. It is entirely unsuprising that those that know what is at stake are responding so strongly. The Government is only suprised by the strength of response, including members of their own party threatening to cross the floor, because they still haven’t really understood what Bolt did wrong. They haven’t got what is at stake.
Racist attacks go to the root of identity for many Australians. This issue touches a nerve. The Government can see the patient, the Australian people, are responding strongly. They are telling people to calm down even as they continue to press a drill against the nerve. They need to understand what they are threatening, the very identity of the nation, and why this reaction is occuring. They need to make more of an effort to understand what the patient is saying, rather than focusing on how they can make the patient sit still as they continue to drill deeper and deeper into a perfectly good tooth.
This piece by Dr Andre Oboler, CEO of the Online Hate Prevention Institute, may be freely reproduced.