Social media is here to stay – let’s ensure it is used positively and safely
March 18, 2014
Section 18C – the debate rages on
March 19, 2014

Section 18C – a ‘legislative dog’s dinner?’

By Pamela Nathan

RE: Abbott must fix problems in Race Act’ by Nick Cater, published in The Australian, 18 March, 2014

“It is a legislative dog’s dinner that Attorney-General George Brandis is now obliged to clear up,” says Nick Cater, referring to 18C. “…for the past 19 years, it has been a civil offence [under Section 18C] to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ a person or group on the grounds of national identity.” Cater says: “In hindsight the Howard government should have closed the loophole when it came to power. It was well aware of its dangers”.

Cater is convinced that 18C will be repealed. He says:

Critics from both the Left and Right are predicting that the Prime Minister and his Attorney-General will pull their punches.

They are wrong. They underestimate how deeply Abbott and others of a classical liberal persuasion are offended by the perverse consequences of 18C. 

They underestimate the chilling effect the act’s provisions have on those who hold the freedom of expression as a non-negotiable element of a liberal society.

And they underestimate the personal affront Abbott took to the prosecution of Bolt.

I find it extraordinary that the debate on 18C conflates freedom of speech with racial humiliation, insults, intimidation and offending. Freedom of speech and racial vilification is an oxymoron. Verbal racial insults can have a deleterious effect on psychological health and can cause psychological trauma. Cater reports that John Laws asked the then prime minister in 1994 “Why do we need a racial hatred bill?”. I suggest it is a bill protecting innocent victims from racial hatred and is not therefore a bill of racial hatred.

In this debate, there appears to be a continual sleight of hand and slippery word smithing. How can anyone defend the right to insult or humiliate or intimidate another person for their race? Are we celebrating the standover men of racial hatred and giving them licence to racially vilify others? Perhaps the whiteness of Australians needs to be overted in terms of freedom to vilify on the basis of colour coding and to be in turn condemned. I encourage all those who have been subject to verbal racial abuse to speak out and voice their trauma. I, for one, have been subject to racial abuse and it constituted a very traumatic episode in my life, heralding the haunting voices of a holocaust of verbal abuse of the previous generations.

If I had known about Section 18C, I would have had the man charged.