I made a huge mistake this morning.
A horrible, horrible mistake.
I read an article published by the Murdoch press.
Yes, nothing good can ever come of this, but while I was reading about the recent symposium held by the Australian Human Rights Commission on Free Speech, it popped up on screen and I couldn’t help myself. Needless to say, it was a bad decision and I spent the next 20 minutes hiding in the supply cupboard at work screaming next to boxes filled with Papermate pens. When I finally returned to my desk, I was greeted by Christopher Pyne’s sneering face on The Bolt Report ranting that students are leeching off tax payer’s dollars while a clip of Tony Abbott was rolling in the corner. Keeping in line with this spectacular morning, I am now waiting for Joe Hockey to strut through the doors demanding my first born child.
Now, this “Free Speech” forum was called in response to Abbott and the Attorney General George Brandis’ now thankfully dropped amendment to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act which reads that it unlawful to: “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people because of their race or ethnicity”.
The draft bill would have removed the protections for offending, insulting or humiliating someone based on the assertion by Abbott and Brandis that this law stifles free speech, with newly installed Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson also voicing his support for the amendment. These changes have come up against very vocal opposition from Labor and the Greens, human rights lawyers and over 80% of the Australian public – even Liberal MPs threatened to cross the floor. If this isn’t a testament to the ridiculousness that would have been changing 18C, then nothing is. Conservative journalist Michael Sexton has written numerous articles for the Murdoch Press in support of repealing these protections with an ever present theme of “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.
Why would these repeals have been so dangerous? Claiming that free speech should allow individuals to be able to say whatever they please, regardless of the harm and trauma it may cause, is opposed to international human rights law and the slightest amount of common sense, decency and courtesy. It completely ignores individuals’ rights to not be vilified or discriminated against because of their race, gender, class, sexuality or religion. Wilson claims that equality can only be reached through the repeal of Section 18C and he is disappointed the repeal is not being pursued, but in what world does repealing laws against discrimination and hate speech produce equality?
Despite the fact that we think repealing these protections against racial vilification under the guise of ‘free speech’ is absurd, it is easy to see how these upper class, heterosexual, white cis-males think it is a logical decision.