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There Will Be No Racial Vilification Laws Under A Government I Lead
August 10, 2012 9:27 PM   Subscribe

The man likely to be Australia's next Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, has used a lunchtime speech to the conservative think-tank the Institute of Public Affairs to call for Australia's racial vilification laws to be wound back. Section 18C makes race hate speech unlawful, but not illegal. Abbott's calls come in the same week that Facebook has been in the firing-line over hosting the controversial "Aboriginal Memes" page.

Abbott claims: "The price of free speech ... is that offense will be given, facts will be misrepresented and lies will be told. Truth, after all, only emerges from such a process".

According to a recent Galaxy poll, commissioned by the IPA, 82% of Australians, support the freedom to say anything regardless of offense.

Abbott's new policy call comes in the wake of the troubled Gillard Government's consideration of a new body to regulate the media, and a successful prosecution of right-wing commentator Andrew Bolt for ‘offending, assaulting, humiliating and/or intimidating' fair skin Aborigines (Previously).

Commentators have dubbed these "The Freedom Wars".

Andrew Jakubowicz from the University of Technology, Sydney, claims Abbott's changes will open Australia to even more critique by the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Also weighing in are Australia's race discrimination commissioner, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, and Green Left Weekly. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has accused Tony Abbott of ''dog whistling''.

Nationalist site Ironbark says the laws "crush public opposition to the Establishment's policies of Multiculturalism and Asianisation".

The so-called 'Abo Memes' page uses derogatory words and images of Aboriginal people, most probably mirroring an earlier page at Encyclopedia Dramatica (previously).

US-based Facebook claims that it will only remove hate pages targeting individuals, not groups. Facebook says: "While obviously distasteful and not any views that Facebook would support, the content does not violate our terms." .

However the page has been retitled, removed and returned several times despite concerns its content may breach hate speech laws.

Indigenous leaders have blasted both Abbott's calls and the meme page.

The page's alleged creator, allegedly a 16-year-old boy, claims "these stereotypical jokes may be racist but they're nearly 100% factual."
The page had apparently more than 4,000 likes (up from 600 when the news broke), while a digital petition to have it removed has almost 19,990 signatures.

Others disgaree with Facebook's decision. (Bonus: Article quotes Metafilter's OwnTM jscalzi).

Also this week the Advertising Standards Board has decided that corporations must police their Facebook pages or be held responsible for, among other things, "sexism racism and other forms of discrimination or vilification".

Australia also has religious vilification laws. There is, of course, no explicit right to free speech in Australia.
posted by Mezentian (121 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Lest anyone (the mods especially) have a heart attack, the post links neither directly to any active partition, nor to any hate site.
As far as I can tell at the moment the site is down, but I don't have Facebook.
posted by Mezentian at 9:30 PM on August 10, 2012


For those of us not in Australia, could someone explain what "unlawful, but not illegal" means? Or if it's in one of the links, please point me there. I just don't understand the distinction, and would like to.
posted by gingerbeer at 9:42 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Illegal means against basically a criminal act, while unlawful means contrary to or prohibited by law without the aspect of criminality, so it's dealt with in the civil courts and while you (probably) won't go to jail there will be fines and/or other orders for restitution.

I am not a lawyer, but I thought that was common across the Commonwealth and US. Perhaps not.
posted by Mezentian at 9:49 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


Hint to USAnians: Abbott is Rick Perry in budgie-smugglers. He makes Bush II look sane.
posted by polyglot at 9:57 PM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


Hate Speech has become what Freedom of Speech is all about. Because if you actually speak truths, you'll be arrested for leaking classified material.
posted by oneswellfoop at 9:58 PM on August 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


polyglot: "Rick Perry in budgie-smugglers."

I did NOT need to imagine that.
posted by dunkadunc at 10:01 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


It's worth pointing out that the the "Institute of Public Affairs" is really little more than a PR firm for rent-seekers and harmful industries trying to avoid regulation (tobacco, mining etc). When they get involved in something like this it's more of a brand-building exercise plus a chance to help their preferred side of politics than a result of any kind of consistent philosophical position.

Australia also has religious vilification laws.

Only in some States (QLD, VIC and TAS, I think).

I did NOT need to imagine that.

[Trigger warning]

posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:02 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


In the US, both terms mean essentially the same thing. Illegal is against the law. It can be either criminal or civil law that is violated, which is the distinction you're making. Thanks for the explanation.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:03 PM on August 10, 2012


Hate speech is what freedom of speech should be all about. Because if you can't say he most damaging things, it is easy to say that you can't say the slightly damaging things.
posted by 256 at 10:12 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I'm sorry, but this is one thing that really gets my goat: Abbott wears 'budgie-smugglers' in his role as a volunteer lifesaver. He doesn't flaunt his body like he's Lady Gaga. He is fucking training to save lives. He was doing it long before he became the leader of the opposition, he does it when he's on leave from his paid job, and I am so sick of the tabloids making fun of him for it.

I wish he would get credit for the fact that he volunteers for a life-saving agency, instead of the "haw haw, he wears Speedos, can you see his dick?" bullshit.

I also have a lot of issues about some other things here (not least the post title), but I'll go away and have a cuppa and calm down.
posted by malibustacey9999 at 10:16 PM on August 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


In my view, freedom of speech allows society to put into practice an important mantra: 'know thy enemy'.

I'd rather such people were out in the open, where we can all identify them and push back against their vitriol, than to have them put on fake smiles while they mutter viciously under their breath whenever others are out of earshot.
posted by adso at 10:20 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I thought he was training to personally turn around the boats (when it's safe to do so).

I'm going to argue the "He doesn't flaunt his body" bit a little.

He does. He used it during the last election during his 48 Hours of Terror. He uses it as a point of difference between him and whoever he is running against to show that's he's can-do and energetic.

It's no less a thing than Downer's suspenders or Costello's feather boa, or some other horror friom electoral cycles past. He made it an issue, moreso than Gillard did her "fat arse" (which was Greer, if I recall).
posted by Mezentian at 10:21 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Let’s be clear: insulting, humiliating or intimidating others on any grounds, racial or otherwise, is deplorable. It should be everyone’s goal to elevate the standards of public debate, not lower them, and to demonstrate respect rather than disdain for the various components of our community. Still, a “hurt feelings” test is impossible to comply with while maintaining the fearless pursuit of truth which should be the hallmark of a society such as ours.

Yes. No true liberal would argue against this. It's unbelievable that these free speech debates keep going on and on and on for centuries. The zombie forces of censorship cannot apparently be killed off, but reincarnate in every generation in some new horror form, some reiteration of the same, tired, what's-good-for-society cliche rationalizations.
posted by shivohum at 10:27 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hate speech isn't free speech. It's binding speech. It's goal is the antithesis of freedom. Only simple-minded demons would make you think otherwise. Pray through.
posted by Goofyy at 10:31 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Next PM over my dead body. The rest of the country needs to pay attention to how Newman is taking down Queensland to wake up.
posted by gomichild at 10:32 PM on August 10, 2012 [10 favorites]


By the end of Howard's time as prime minister I felt sick (really) from the hatred, cruelty and blame that he encouraged. I feel the same sickness coming back as I contemplate an Abbott led government. Not that Labor are much better.......
posted by MT at 10:33 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


and yes gomichild, Newman is providing the rest of Australia with a terrible warning of what is to come for the rest of us.
posted by MT at 10:34 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


instead of the "haw haw, he wears Speedos, can you see his dick?" bullshit.

Which bullshit is of immense benefit to Abbott, because it humanises him and draws attention away from just how nasty he is in every other way.

On these laws and freedom of speech, there are some significant exceptions (from the Racial Discrimination Act 1975):
18D Exemptions

Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith:
(a) in the performance, exhibition or distribution of an artistic work; or
(b) in the course of any statement, publication, discussion or debate made or held for any genuine academic, artistic or scientific purpose or any other genuine purpose in the public interest; or
(c) in making or publishing:
(i) a fair and accurate report of any event or matter of public interest; or
(ii) a fair comment on any event or matter of public interest if the comment is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment.
In the most famous case, the Andrew Bolt one (where a number of Aboriginal activists took action against his article claiming that they were too "white" to be real Aborigines and chose to identify as Aboriginal for personal advantage), this exemption failed on the good faith test because Bolt just made up most of his "facts" about the people he was defaming. It didn't help that he followed up by being "disingenuous" on the stand.

I'm not aware of any case, actually, where the racial vilification laws have been successfully used in a way that could reasonably be said to impose on freedom of speech, thanks largely to section 18D.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 10:39 PM on August 10, 2012 [8 favorites]


It is very difficult to discuss hate speech laws with Americans, as we believe ourselves to be free speech absolutists, and are almost entirely blind to the many, many ways we constrain speech, and often believe that other countries, because they find other places to set the bar for restricted speech, are engaged in the most egregious form of censorship, the sort of which violates basic human rights in a way that our constraints, which we barely acknowledge, could not.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:40 PM on August 10, 2012 [27 favorites]


I'm going to link to this Body Building forum (why is it always that place?) which seems to be the sort of thing they are talking about. Or Memgenerator.

Feel free to flag this comment, I won't mind, but I was curious.

Pretty much across the board they're not even remotely funny even by the thin standards of racist humour.
posted by Mezentian at 10:40 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


I read the Jakubowicz article a couple of days ago at The Conversation. I really liked this thought:
In making his attack on government plans to “regulate” the news media, Mr Abbott argued: “The more powerful people are, the more important the presumption must be that less powerful people should be able to say exactly what they think of them”.

Given this logic, the converse should also hold – “the less powerful people are, the more important the presumption that more powerful people should not be able to say exactly what they think of them”.
Abbott's stated concerns about silencing the weak notwithstanding, the most high profile example of the use of the racial vilification laws involves Andrew Bolt's comments about Aboriginal people. Bolt was emphatically not the less powerful party in that case. And as I understand it, that's pretty standard: the racial vilification laws are systematically used by the weak to provide a defence against attacks by the powerful.

If Abbott is so deeply concerned about the presumption that the less powerful should have rights to openly comment on the more powerful, perhaps he might consider doing something about Australia's libel laws, which are much more egregious in providing protection for the strong against the weak. And yet, not a word on this front can be found in his "freedom wars" speech. Shocking.
posted by mixing at 10:42 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


What are these hidden laws constraining speech in the US?
posted by PJLandis at 10:45 PM on August 10, 2012


Obscenity, speech that incites imminent lawless action, regulations of commercial speech, copyright laws, libel and slander laws ...
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 10:48 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


None of those are hidden, and the limits on each are pretty tight without being absurd. At the very least, none of these reach the level of hate speech laws in limiting expression of ideas.
posted by PJLandis at 10:58 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Obscenity is probably the only one I would consider censorship. Maybe libel/slander, too.
posted by PJLandis at 11:01 PM on August 10, 2012


Campbell Newman scares me.
A lot.

That people don't think Abbott will do the same shocks me.

Here's Tony and the late Bernie Banton, former Labour PM Paul Keating on Abbott., and former Liberal PM Malcolm Fraser on the same.

But that's straying from the topic.
posted by Mezentian at 11:02 PM on August 10, 2012


None of those are hidden, and the limits on each are pretty tight without being absurd.

When did I say hidden? You said hidden.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:02 PM on August 10, 2012


Well, blind and unacknowledged. Hidden isn't that big of an exaggeration.
posted by PJLandis at 11:03 PM on August 10, 2012


They mean entirely different things.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:05 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I suppose it's inevitable that people lucky enough to be in a position where the worst speech can do to them is hurt their feelings assume that's the worst it can do to anyone else, too. I can sort of see where they're coming from if I tilt my head a bit. Hurt feelings wouldn't be reason enough to curtail speech. Hate speech laws are not about hurt feelings.
posted by emmtee at 11:11 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Well, if you're blind to them, then to you they're hidden?

Anyway, I think all those examples are very different from 'hate speech' laws in that they aren't preventing the expression of any particular idea or viewpoint.
posted by PJLandis at 11:11 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Anyway, I think all those examples are very different from 'hate speech' laws in that they aren't preventing the expression of any particular idea or viewpoint.

What ideas or viewpoints are these hate speech laws preventing the expression of?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:14 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Every thread about Australia inevitably turns to somebody's grievances with Americans within the first few minutes.

I suppose that goes for basically all other threads too.
posted by Winnemac at 11:14 PM on August 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Australia doesn't simply place freedom of speech limits at a different level, Bunny. The very concept of freedom of speech is simply not ingrained our legal, ideological and cultural fabric, and that has far-reaching consequences across our society, from ridiculous censorship (sometimes we do not receive "X" rated art films until decades after they are released), to current worrying efforts by the incumbent government to regulate the content of print media, to hate speech laws.
posted by dontjumplarry at 11:15 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hate speech laws are not about hurt feelings.

What do you mean? Seems to me that's exactly what they're about.
posted by John Cohen at 11:16 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Obscenity, speech that incites imminent lawless action, regulations of commercial speech, copyright laws, libel and slander laws ...

... are often controversial because they arguably can infringe on free speech.

But not as much as hate speech laws.
posted by John Cohen at 11:19 PM on August 10, 2012


But not as much as hate speech laws.

Really? Because I would argue that our pro-corporate copyright laws represent as egregious a constraint on speech as any hate speech law.

But the point I was making is that this is about Australian laws, and shouldn't be a pretext for us Americans, who do plenty to abridge speech, to just jump in and condemn them.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:21 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Hate speech isn't free speech. It's binding speech. It's goal is the antithesis of freedom.

Assuming this wasn't meant as satire: what decision-making process could reliably distinguish between hateful speech and OK speech? People often disagree over whether speech is hateful/offensive.
posted by John Cohen at 11:23 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


But the point I was making is that this is about Australian laws, and shouldn't be a pretext for us Americans, who do plenty to abridge speech, to just jump in and condemn them.

That's a weird ad hominem argument. I can't object to blatantly anti-free-speech laws because I'm American and the US government isn't perfect at respecting free speech?
posted by John Cohen at 11:27 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really? Because I would argue that our pro-corporate copyright laws represent as egregious a constraint on speech as any hate speech law.

At the risk of a derail, copyright law isn't as bad, free-speech-wise, because it's content-neutral. The law might be bad for any number of reasons, which would be better dealt with in a thread about copyright. But it's not aimed at suppressing certain views. A ban on "hate speech" amounts to a ban on certain unpopular views. That is the worst kind of infringement on free speech. If unpopular views can't be expressed, then there is no freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is precisely about unpopular speech. I hope the cheap, political use of the word "hate" doesn't distract people from what's really at stake.
posted by John Cohen at 11:37 PM on August 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


If unpopular views can't be expressed, then there is no freedom of speech.

So... how do the laws we're talking about here stop unpopular views being expressed?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:40 PM on August 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


John Cohen: Assuming this wasn't meant as satire: what decision-making process could reliably distinguish between hateful speech and OK speech? People often disagree over whether speech is hateful/offensive.

Two common places one also sees this 'I can't believe we're even discussing it! Of course it should be illegal!' attitude are in religious countries, when dealing with heresy, and in countries with a far-right government, when criticizing the ruling party. These are also two of the best arguments for preventing this kind of law from existing as well.
posted by Mitrovarr at 11:59 PM on August 10, 2012


Free speech should not be infringed upon by copyright law. Neither should free speech be infringed upon by laws intended to eliminate hate speech. Freedom of speech is a limited but very important thing, and you can't go cutting it down in an attempt to prevent hate - not least because you will fail.

I respect Australia and Australians, and they may run their country as they choose. Moreover I accept that this Tony Abbott fellow might well be a first-rate scoundrel, and if what's been said about him here is true he'd certainly make a terrible Prime Minister. But what he said up there about freedom of speech being a necessary thing, about that freedom being the price we pay for the discourse that leads to truth, he was absolutely right about that.

There's such a thing as freedom and the dignity to hope and expect that others will make themselves worthy of freedom. I really believe that equation - that I support your right to say what you choose, out of respect for you and hope that you will use that freedom wisely - is necessary for human society to have true discourse, I believe.
posted by koeselitz at 12:02 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


Every thread about Australia inevitably turns to somebody's grievances with Americans within the first few minutes.

Eh, it's not like we Australians don't show up in threads about the US health care/insurance system, tutting and rolling our eyes.
posted by Ritchie at 12:05 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is 'binding speech' a specific term, or is it in contrast to 'free speech'?
posted by the man of twists and turns at 12:06 AM on August 11, 2012


Civil rights for the oppressed trump freedom of hate speech in my book. Australia's treatment of native Australians (I don't even like to use the word "aboriginal" - it's so often intoned in a derogatory way) is disgusting and shameful. Concepts of land rights etc are In the middle ages. Screw some arsehole's right to further abuse these people publicly - why aren't we talking about how to end their persecution and give them back some meaningful right to quality of life?
posted by iotic at 12:07 AM on August 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


I went looking to see how many prosecutions there have been, but couldn't find much other than Bolt, but I did find this academic paper which suggests:
In a society still heavily influenced by a populist understanding of the American liberal tradition, to allow that a commitment to democracy (or full equality) will at times temper a commitment to free speech is still regarded as problematic and is too often dismissed as awarding “special rights” for minorities. The new emerging standard being adopted across a range of international jurisdictions, including Australia, is providing a necessary counter-narrative to this tradition. In the context of Australia’s constitutional history, the development of such a narrative of human rights through the implementation of anti-vilification law may be viewed as an important contribution to an underdeveloped tradition in our jurisprudence..
posted by Mezentian at 12:13 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


what decision-making process could reliably distinguish between hateful speech and OK speech?

Was there an act?

Was that act public?

Was the act reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people?

Was the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person, or of some or all of the people in the group?

Then it was hate speech.

Wow, that was hard. Somebody should write that down and make it a law or something.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 12:14 AM on August 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


Has it been demonstrated that hate-speech laws actually work? I mean - is there significantly less hate speech in, say, Australia than there is in some other country that might not have such laws?
posted by koeselitz at 12:17 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Australia's treatment of native Australians (I don't even like to use the word "aboriginal" - it's so often intoned in a derogatory way)

I don't think you're going to get too far calling them "natives" either. That carries a not-inconsiderable colonial weight that won't fly too far. You're better off sticking with the proper noun (Aboriginal) generally, or specific group (Koori) where possible, if you ask me.
(Or "Blacks", if you are News Limited. IIRC they are the only major media news organisation that still uses the term).
posted by Mezentian at 12:18 AM on August 11, 2012


What do you mean? Seems to me that's exactly what they're about.

Dehumanisation and its consequences. Marginalisation through the group being presented as fair game, through relying for essential services and political representation on a majority population who've spent their lives primarily encountering them as socially-sanctioned stereotypes and jokes. Incitement and justification of targeted and casual violence either overtly or through the same dehumanising effect of a minority being known first as either a threatening/pathetic stereotype or the butt of a joke. Priming, especially in children raised in a cultural environment which teaches them mockery and cruelty is only okay when it's aimed at certain groups, who must therefore be lesser or other, and the effects of that. And so on, and so on, and so on. It's all actual, tangible harm.

I'm not saying none of the people arguing for hate speech laws are doing so because hate speech makes them feel insulted, but I don't think it's that common as the primary reason. Hurt feelings being the worst thing ever is for privileged people. Members of oppressed groups aspire to that state, where being made to feel bad seems like a really big deal because that's the worst thing speech can do.
posted by emmtee at 12:20 AM on August 11, 2012 [16 favorites]


Really? Because I would argue that our pro-corporate copyright laws represent as egregious a constraint on speech as any hate speech law.
Not really. Define "hate".
I can sort of see where they're coming from if I tilt my head a bit. Hurt feelings wouldn't be reason enough to curtail speech. Hate speech laws are not about hurt feelings.
(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if: (a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate[...] (b) the act is done because of the race,[...] (2) For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it:[...] (c) is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place.

This hate speech law certainly is. Define "offend".
What ideas or viewpoints are these hate speech laws preventing the expression of?
Hahaha... you first?

But let's see if I can take a neutral stab at it. How about criticism (valid or not) of an ethnic group's culture and social mores and how that may have a deleterious effect on society. That certainly would have a reasonable possibility of offending someone and is directed at a particular group. It would probably be flawed and incorrect, or not. But you will never find out why -- because it would be illegal to say it.

This, of course, becomes substantially less clear cut if you're an atheist and there are religious vilification laws.
posted by smidgen at 12:22 AM on August 11, 2012


But let's see if I can take a neutral stab at it. How about criticism (valid or not) of an ethnic group's culture and social mores and how that may have a deleterious effect on society. That certainly would have a reasonable possibility of offending someone and is directed at a particular group. It would probably be flawed and incorrect, or not. But you will never find out why -- because it would be illegal to say it.

The opinion pages of any Australian newspaper ever will happily prove your fears, that such laws could prevent people from making comments about how Indigenous culture has a deleterious effect on Australian society, are unfounded.
posted by kithrater at 12:27 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


The opinion pages of any Australian newspaper ever will happily prove your fears, that such laws could prevent people from making comments about how Indigenous culture has a deleterious effect on Australian society, are unfounded.
Is that because the law allows it (it doesn't seem to), or because it is unevenly enforced? If there is no law, then how does this change exactly? What is the purpose of the law then?
posted by smidgen at 12:41 AM on August 11, 2012


It would probably be flawed and incorrect, or not. But you will never find out why -- because it would be illegal to say it.

If it's correct it would probably be covered by at least one of the exceptions unless, despite being correct, it was unreasonable or said in bad faith. Even if it wasn't correct it might still be covered. This isn't a blanket ban on offending people.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 12:44 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fair enough. I think we diverge here a bit because "probably" and "bad faith" are a little too fuzzy for me.

There are a million hurtful racist things said everyday -- making it illegal to say them really doesn't seem like it would promote true conformity around a positive ideal. It seems like it would let the negative simply linger without a clear rebuttal. On the other hand, that may be my bias -- many a child has been taught manners through forms of discipline.
posted by smidgen at 1:17 AM on August 11, 2012


There are a million hurtful racist things said everyday -- making it illegal to say them really doesn't seem like it would promote true conformity around a positive ideal.

I think you may be overestimating exactly what the reach and intention of hate speech legislation is. There are no coppers in the bushes waiting for people to speak an epithet.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:28 AM on August 11, 2012


I don't think you're going to get too far calling them "natives" either. That carries a not-inconsiderable colonial weight that won't fly too far. You're better off sticking with the proper noun (Aboriginal) generally, or specific group (Koori) where possible, if you ask me.

This is clearly true, and you're right to pick me up on it. I just think it's telling that the "correct" term is so close to the derogatory slur "abo" in Australia.
posted by iotic at 1:37 AM on August 11, 2012


I just think it's telling that the "correct" term is so close to the derogatory slur "abo" in Australia.

Your profile doesn't say, so I am guessing you're not Australian, but the difference between "Aborigine" and "Abbo" is chalk and cheese in usage here.

If you want a barometer, the Aboriginal Legal Service and the various Aboriginal Land Councils are fine and dandy with the term.
posted by Mezentian at 1:44 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


*Counts down the days until he can apply for British citizenship*
posted by acb at 1:55 AM on August 11, 2012


I'm not Australian. I did live there for 6 months when I was young. You're right, my viewpoint is one of an outsider. I would say there are issues with your "barometer" - the existence of the NAACP in the USA doesn't imply all African Americans are OK with being called coloured people. Far from it.

But i don't want to contribute unnecessarily to a further derail of the thread. The main issue is that a prominent politician wants to repeal basic hate speech laws, and that's bad.
posted by iotic at 2:01 AM on August 11, 2012


I can't get beyond Abbott's reasons for wanting to do this - I can guarantee it has nothing to do with high-minded liberal ideals, and everything to do with blowing a dog-whistle for anti-PC Herald Sun readers.
posted by Jimbob at 2:15 AM on August 11, 2012 [6 favorites]


Woah.

Raising the bar, people. That's what what were supposed to be doing.

Not lowering it.
posted by notyou at 2:20 AM on August 11, 2012


I can't get beyond Abbott's reasons for wanting to do this - I can guarantee it has nothing to do with high-minded liberal ideals, and everything to do with blowing a dog-whistle for anti-PC Herald Sun readers.

Especially given how Abbott, a religious authoritarian by conviction, is against free speech where it doesn't line up with his right-wing ideology and/or political expediency. Under the Howard government (of which Abbott was a senior member), film and book censorship in Australia was stepped up (but only of non-mainstream things the “latte sippers” who vote Green would like; you can watch all the Hollywood gore you like, but arthouse/foreign films with sexual content are likely to be banned), and sedition laws were passed criminalising the incitement of negative opinions about Australia or its allies. The free speech zone in Abbott's Australia is the two-minute hate directed against scapegoat groups (aborigines, Muslims, the “un-Australian”).
posted by acb at 2:33 AM on August 11, 2012 [11 favorites]


lotic, Google "the Aboriginal people" and you'll find many, many entirely neutral and inoffensive uses of the term. It really is the case that the term and its abbreviation are chalk and cheese in Australia, as Mezentian says. Kind of like the UK distinction between "Pakistani" and its derogatory abbreviation.
posted by rory at 2:38 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


I realise that particluarly in a US-centric board and amongst mefites that this view is not terribly popular, but I support limits to freedom of speech, I support laws that make David Irving's views and books verboten, that mean that Andrew Bolt can't just make shit up, I support the extremely limited censorship we have. As long as you have an independent judiciary wisely and judiciously reflecting minimum community standards this has been shown to work well and to be a positive thing. I suspect that the reason Americans particularly cannot stand the idea is because their judiciary is notably far more partisan and politicised.

Lets not pretend that these laws have ever been or will ever be used on a private citizen speaking down the pub amongst associates. They have only been used and will only ever be used against people that have a substantial platform to disseminate their hate, and only in the most obvious and blatant circumstances.

Do you know how many books have been banned in Australia in the past 30 years? Two. Both written by Abdullah Azzam.
posted by wilful at 4:30 AM on August 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


Do you know how many books have been banned in Australia in the past 30 years? Two. Both written by Abdullah Azzam.

Incorrect. Dr. Philip Nitschke's The Peaceful Pill Handbook, a book offering instruction in voluntary euthanasia, is banned as well.

(Additionally, American Psycho is banned in Queensland, but not (yet) federally. Also, the Wikipedia page on censorship in Australia mentions contemporary teen novels being banned if they depict teenagers meeting strangers in chat rooms, though no citations are given.)
posted by acb at 5:02 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Book censorship is so mid-20th-century. These days Australia mostly censors films, games and Internet hosts - in each case our laws are the most restrictive, or almost the most, in the Western world. The Internet laws are particularly extreme, although since they only apply to material hosted onshore (for now) and are rarely enforced they don't do much.

I agree with wilful's general point though. I think it's safe to assume that one reason why Australia has our current administrative Classification Board system is because sometime in the '70s the cops started to find it too hard to convince judges to convict for obscenity.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 5:56 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


This article is in and of itself a great test of whether one possesses developed reasoning and critical thinking skills. Does anybody who advocates censorship ever phrase it as anything other than the highest moral necessity? Of course not. Even in repressive police states, they claim "Our speech is totally free - but obviously, there have to be some limitations, because some stuff is just plain WRONG."

If you ever find yourself saying absurd things like "Free speech must never be suppressed! Oh wait - that was hate speech. Never mind, suppress away then!" then you're pretty gullible about how censorship gets implemented in the real world, and likely other things as well. On the plus side, I have some great investment opportunities exclusively for you!
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:08 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


(The phrase most commonly used by government is Indigenous Australians. For statistical purposes we asked folk if they identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders.)
posted by taff at 6:12 AM on August 11, 2012


Books may be banned, but unless I have been lied to, American Psycho is still plastic wrapped with an R-rating. Like "People".

And I can also buy hardcore sex DVDs from Canberra.

Only Canberra.
posted by Mezentian at 6:29 AM on August 11, 2012


As an Australian, I think we have way too much censorship here - see the debacle about no R ratings for computer games until recently, and the AU Christian Lobby fighting tooth and nail for their right to ignorance and repression of speech through the classification system. We don't have a constitutional right to free speech here, but we do have an implicit right to freedom of political speech, and that's the important part of speech.

However, there are good arguments for hate speech laws that you Americans are wilfully ignoring, and they line up pretty well with the informal exceptions to your own free-speech laws, e.g. inciting people to violence. Section 18D (as posted above) specifies very broad exceptions to the definition of hate-speech that cover all of the non-objectionable uses of speech including valid political speech.

In AU, we have anti-discrimination laws which mean that you can't discriminate against a person on the basis of certain protected dimensions, e.g. race, gender, etc. We recognise that speech has consequences (no matter how loudly you shout that people should be responsible for their own actions... speech still has consequences) and therefore we have laws that say you're not permitted public speech with the aim of denigrating a group based on one of the protected dimensions.

The laws restrict only the actions of bigots running pogroms (Andrew Bolt) and do not restrict any discussion of public policy or factual critiques of behaviour or culture. If you want to point out that there is a correlation between a race or culture and certain bad behaviours, you can do that if it is true. If you want to make shit up and lie about a racial group (what would be defamation if the target were an individual) with the intent of driving public opinion against them and therefore affecting public policy negatively for that group*, then that is not permitted under Australian law.

The Australian right-wing spins this as the "freedom wars" but that's pure bullshit spin. There are no good freedoms** being impinged upon, we can still have good public policy debates, we can discuss things openly and honestly like adults if we wanted to. However, the right wing here runs on fearmongering and hysterical xenophobia (see: children overboard / Tampa, "illegal" immigrants that aren't illegal, etc); they want back the ability to lie about groups in order to push the fear/xenophobia angle. "Us versus Them" is their primary political tool and it's much more effective when not constrained by facts. The legal right to speak truth to power that they claim to want back is not infringed by Australian hate speech laws... just the defamation laws and note that Abbott is not proposing to reform any defamation laws.

If you take away the hate speech laws, freedom of speech here becomes severely lopsided. Powerful individuals are still protected by defamation laws, second only to the UK's for their stupidity whereas marginal groups would lose their protection against defamation-as-a-class.


* There are many historical examples where political parties have driven hate and fear for their own benefit, leading to disenfranchisement and (to take the classic examples in Europe) genocide. That's what hate speech is for, it's what Abbott and Bolt want the laws repealed for and there's very good reason for it to be illegal.

** don't tell me all freedoms are good unless you want me to exercise my freedom to stab you in the face.
posted by polyglot at 6:37 AM on August 11, 2012 [14 favorites]


I'm sympathetic to Abbott's position in theory, but in practice these laws haven't been abused and his proposed alternative - falling back on libel law and incitement and so forth - fails to deal with the sort of systemic oppression of minorities that occurs when one group is regularly described as being stupid or untrustworthy. The USA had to deal with this sort of thing too; it just used different tools like affirmative action and the Civil Rights Act. Those are arguably even more intrusive than laws against hate speech.
posted by Joe in Australia at 7:07 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Funny dat, I forgot I was sitting here in Singapore until I tried to click on some sites linked in the curious comment or dig for more information - 503 errors.
posted by infini at 7:37 AM on August 11, 2012


However, there are good arguments for hate speech laws that you Americans are wilfully ignoring, and they line up pretty well with the informal exceptions to your own free-speech laws, e.g. inciting people to violence.

Except that they don't line up too well, since the US allows the KKK and Fred Phelps to say their peace. They are not considered to be inciting violence.

"Us versus Them" is their primary political tool and it's much more effective when not constrained by facts.

There is no remedy for this except to fight back with more speech. Court is not the right solution.

Powerful individuals are still protected by defamation laws, second only to the UK's for their stupidity whereas marginal groups would lose their protection against defamation-as-a-class.

So these are what need to be changed.

--

It is a condition of a moral society that people be allowed, without fear of offense, to say what is on their minds, even if some consider it vile. The only real judge of what is true or good is society as a whole, in considering all of that speech.
posted by shivohum at 7:44 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is a condition of a moral society that people be allowed, without fear of offense, to say what is on their minds, even if some consider it vile.

One of the most interesting differences I find between Australia and the US is that bright-line ideological declarations fail to thrive here. I don't know why this is. I don't know whether it's a charming rejection of absolutism or a cowardly refusal to commit to principles. It might reflect our naïve trust in fundamental human decency or a mature skepticism of good intentions. It may be an oddity unique to Australia or something we share with other countries. Regardless, we seem to have done okay so far (and that statement is the closest I will ever come to expressing a nationalist sentiment).
posted by Ritchie at 8:22 AM on August 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Shivohum, you're adopting a weird position. I don't think having Fred Phelps around makes your society moral; nor do I think that prosecuting Fredrick Töben made Australia immoral.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:24 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


And I can also buy hardcore sex DVDs from Canberra.

Only Canberra.


And the internet, in case you haven't heard.

Which does actually bring me to consider the futility of this, either way. If I, as an Australian, post slanderous speech hinting towards National Party politicians' tendency, as a class, towards incestuous and often violent sexual relationship with their grandmothers (and ewes) on, say, a community weblog hosted in the United States, what Australian laws would be relevant to me? While ideologically I do feel there should be punishment for lies (and, as others have said, we're really talking about deliberate lies here, more so than "hate speech" - I'd be just as happy seeing Ian Plimer and Eric Abetz prosecuted as Andrew Bolt for deliberate public falsification), in reality, what practical good can be done when jurisdiction is so diffuse and meaningless? Efforts by governments to overcome this have been universally hilarious - laws on the books in some Australian states declaring that anyone passing comment on an election on the internet has to include their full name and address...

I keep swinging back and forth on the issue, really. I find it despicable that people masquerading as commentators, journalists, whatever, can get away with pretending simple facts don't exist, lying, inventing, spreading bullshit. But if we shut it down, this speech will just live on somewhere on a Russian web host, or on Tor, or in endless emails recycled between retiree Liberal party voters with nothing better to do with their time, so maybe we should just have it out in the open where we can put a name to it?
posted by Jimbob at 8:29 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is a condition of a moral society that people be allowed, without fear of offense, to say what is on their minds, even if some consider it vile.

It's always fun to be lectured by Americans on what is moral and what isn't. We out here in the rest of the world genuinely appreciate that you take the time to educate us.
posted by Wolof at 8:45 AM on August 11, 2012 [7 favorites]


One of the most interesting differences I find between Australia and the US is that bright-line ideological declarations fail to thrive here.

Heh. I'm sure you have some without even thinking about it. Racial discrimination in the provision of goods and services is verboten, correct? That's a bright-line ideological declaration, or would have been at some point in the past... when something becomes accepted enough, it simply loses its ideological hue.

I don't think having Fred Phelps around makes your society moral; nor do I think that prosecuting Fredrick Töben made Australia immoral.

Well obviously allowing or disallowing one person does not change a society from black to white, like one swallow does not a summer make. And society has many facets, not just speech. But I do think that the fact that the US is confident enough to allow Fred Phelps and remain unaffected is absolutely to its moral credit, and the prosecution of Toben the opposite. Speech is the one arena where people should be able to say what they think; freedom of speech is right next to freedom of thought, and that should be absolute and sacrosanct.

It's always fun to be lectured by Americans on what is moral and what isn't. We out here in the rest of the world genuinely appreciate that you take the time to educate us.

Oh please. As if any society -- including Australia -- has clean hands. If moral purity were the requisite feature for talking about morality, no one from any country could ever talk about what was good and right.
posted by shivohum at 8:49 AM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The point would be that it is invariably an American.

I know, hate speech!
posted by Wolof at 8:57 AM on August 11, 2012


The point would be that it is invariably an American.

That's because you're posting on a website with a majority of Americans. If you went to a French or South African or Chilean website and talked policy, you'd face opinionated nationals from those regions.
posted by shivohum at 9:03 AM on August 11, 2012


It really is pointless to compare legal approaches between America and other English countries.

America turned a particular piece of English legislation into Holy Writ. The rest of the English speaking world has not.
posted by ocschwar at 9:15 AM on August 11, 2012


> Speech is the one arena where people should be able to say what they think; freedom of speech is right next to freedom of thought, and that should be absolute and sacrosanct

Says who? Jefferson?
posted by de at 9:16 AM on August 11, 2012


Says who?

John Stuart Mill and Voltaire among many others.
posted by shivohum at 9:19 AM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


I probably wasn't very clear so I'll have one more go. Yes 'racial discrimination in the provision of goods and services is verboten', although we just think of things like that as being illegal. Do you regard driving on the right side of the road as an ideological position? Australians drive on the left, and to us it's just a law. To Australians, racial discrimination laws are just the traffic regulations of civil society - there to be obeyed, not put on a pedestal.

Ideologues may help lay the groundwork, but the view of Australians is that actual laws are - regardless of how high-minded they might purport to be - written and enacted by narrow-minded, venal and self-interested people who don't deserve admiration, and whose laws therefore should be regarded with skepticism.

Once again, this isn't intended as criticism of the US or Americans. These are just differences as I see them, and an attempt to explain why certain kinds of statements will tend to fall on deaf ears as far as Australians go - why we all just shrug and say 'whatever' when Americans start saying the kinds of things that Australians have come to expect Americans will say!
posted by Ritchie at 9:39 AM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


So will this be the first offensive speech thread on Metafilter where defenders of censorship don't get to say "This is not about censorship! No one is proposing making speech illegal"?
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 9:41 AM on August 11, 2012


One of the most interesting differences I find between Australia and the US is that bright-line ideological declarations fail to thrive here.

Is that a point for these types of laws or against them? Most of the support for such laws in this thread appears to be ideological--as long as it has the right intent there's no need to worry about the effect--whether it actually works, how it is enforced and whether its impact spreads beyond the confines of its language. By way of contrast, anybody here who defended a drug law with a "right intent" line would be shut down immediately.
posted by cheburashka at 10:00 AM on August 11, 2012


John Stuart Mill and Voltaire among many others.

Given that Abbott and his fellow travellers are no honest champions of individual liberty, except for the liberty to form mobs to reinforce "majority" opinion and give disliked minorities some good-natured grief, his advocacy of the right to be racist does not stand alongside the reasoned positions of Mill and Voltaire. Were it a principled stand in favour of liberty to say anything unpopular (even if it offends the "silent majority" of "suburban battlers", and not just politically-correct latte-drinking straw persons), it'd be different, but it is fundamentally a question of bad faith.
posted by acb at 1:16 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Strange it is that men should admit the validity of the arguments for free speech but object to their being "pushed to an extreme", not seeing that unless the reasons are good for an extreme case, they are not good for any case.

-- John Stuart Mill
posted by sbutler at 1:34 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is a condition of a moral society that people be allowed, without fear of offense, to say what is on their minds, even if some consider it vile. The only real judge of what is true or good is society as a whole, in considering all of that speech.

That is a uniquely American position of ideology. You're claiming that all speech is good because, well, why? Because Mill and Voltaire said so? History before and since then would tell you that they're not very correct. A willingness the declare something as "moral" without any analysis or even observation on its emergent effects in a complex society is blind ideology and not good public policy.

Yes, we censor stuff. No, that is not inherently evil.
posted by polyglot at 2:46 PM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The point of democracy is that it is a feedback loop: if your government sucks, you can get a new one and hope that it's better than the old one. Systems (and societies, which are very complex systems) tend to be more stable when they have appropriate feedback loops to stop them running off the rails. Feedback in the control-theory sense of "observe the output and modify the inputs to correct any observed errors", sort of like the Scientific Method where empiricism is the final arbiter of theory.

However if you say "this dude a couple hundred years ago said this really erudite thing, and it like, resonates with me... let's base our government on it!" then you have an open loop. Open loops of ideology are the domain of faith-based governance and the USA subscribes to the religion of freedom of speech. What America has is an unwillingness to modify its ideology* in the face of observations (Phelps etc) that would indicate that there are problems.

The hilarious thing is that you don't actually have real freedom of political speech, and it's political speech that (IMHO) matters most. Look at what McCarthy did to the communists - did they get their freedom of speech or political opinion? They're but one example.


* Constitution, in this case. I fully agree that constitutions need to be hard to change and taking rights out of a constitution is a very scary thing to do. Given the partisan nature of the US judiciary, I wouldn't advocate for the removal of the first amendment... but here in Australia, with a less-corrupt judicial system, we get along better without it.
posted by polyglot at 3:14 PM on August 11, 2012 [4 favorites]



Incorrect. Dr. Philip Nitschke's The Peaceful Pill Handbook, a book offering instruction in voluntary euthanasia, is banned as well.


That's a good example that allows me to further my point (apart from demonstrating just how miniscule the number of censored books is). As a proponent of euthanasia, Dr Nitschke is allowed to write as many books as he wants advocating for his position. Which he does, along with many other people. The line that he crosses is that he specifically tells people how to break the law. Which, whether or not you like a particular law, isn't an unreasonable position for a state/society to take.

Australia has La Rouchians, League of Rightists, Communists, racist groups etc etc, all publishing quite regularly. I cannot think of a single example of any time where a person's freedom of speech has truly been offended. It is only when they positively advocate breaking the law that they get into trouble.

Oh, I can buy American Psycho in a bookshop in Melbourne tomorrow.

Also, video games not having an R rating is merely classification, it is not censorship. The classification board was willing and ready to offer these games an R rating, if they had the power to. It was the simple result of laws not catching up, and a short-term reactionary tool issue with the SA A-G. Nobody thought that this would last for long, everyone knew that video games would be normalised soon - and it was.

As to this argument that OMG free speech is the fundamental value for society - well bollocks to that. I think that a fair and unbiased franchise, one vote one value is far more important - so do we want to talk about electoral systems around the world? You go first, Ohio.
posted by wilful at 3:48 PM on August 11, 2012


It's always depressing to see how quickly these free speech convos with Americans on metafilter instantly dissolve into hypotheticals. So few of free speech's vociferous defenders in these threads seem able or willing to understand how the law actually plays out in Australia and the numerous exceptions in place to explicitly prevent what they think is happening - despite how many of us Australians actually point it out.

Instead, it's far easier to bellow about "free speech" over and over again like the mating call of some kind of libertarian bullfrog. It's disappointing, to see such refusal to engage with the actual reality and practice of the law, as opposed to the black and white melodrama conjured forth.
posted by smoke at 3:59 PM on August 11, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh, I can buy American Psycho in a bookshop in Melbourne tomorrow.

What about in Brisbane? It's Queensland where it's meant to still be banned.

Also, video games not having an R rating is merely classification, it is not censorship.

That sounds like sophistry to me. It was/is illegal to import, sell or make available games not deemed suitable for minors by the classification board, which is effectively censorship, even if one can rhetorically finesse it into a more euphemistic category.

As to this argument that OMG free speech is the fundamental value for society - well bollocks to that. I think that a fair and unbiased franchise, one vote one value is far more important

Democracy (and the precondition of an informed public) cannot function properly without free speech. Of course, absolute free speech (which would include defamation, incitement to violence, and other harmful forms of speech) is not a stable equilibrium, so societies have to decide where to draw the line. While it is necessary to sometimes ban forms of speech, IMHO, this needs to be well thought out and justified on stronger grounds than “most people don't like this”.
posted by acb at 4:02 PM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]



What about in Brisbane? It's Queensland where it's meant to still be banned.
I make no excuses for Queensland,they're are the national joke, I merely note that they have far bigger social issues to deal with than censorship.

That sounds like sophistry to me. It was/is illegal to import, sell or make available games not deemed suitable for minors by the classification board, which is effectively censorship, even if one can rhetorically finesse it into a more euphemistic category.

Sounds more like you don't understand the operation of the law to me. As I noted, it was simply a matter of the laws coming into line with societal norms, something that has happened. With what, the temporary restriction of half a dozen games (and the inappropriate classification of several games as M rather than R)?

IMHO, this needs to be well thought out and justified on stronger grounds than “most people don't like this”.

yeah that's what we're saying, precisely.
posted by wilful at 4:08 PM on August 11, 2012


Yeah. We used to have this same conversation over-and-over with He Who Shall Not Be Named In Brooklyn - paranoid claims about the jackboot of censorship stamping on Australian faces are contrasted with the reality that I can get my hands on "censored" game x / film y / book z within minutes without leaving my couch, without that big scary government being able to do anything about it. I can only reduce the problem here to Australian pragmatism versus American ideological purity.

I just tested out my theory. Here in deepest darkest Tasmania, I now have an ePub of American Psycho on my computer, after hitting up The Pirate Bay on Tor, downloading the torrent to a shell account in the US, then transferring to my own PC over SSH. There's no way for the Australian government to stop me, no way for them to know what I was doing, and as far as I know no way to prosecute me for describing my illegal actions here.
posted by Jimbob at 4:14 PM on August 11, 2012


I just tested out my theory. Here in deepest darkest Tasmania, I now have an ePub of American Psycho on my computer, after hitting up The Pirate Bay on Tor, downloading the torrent to a shell account in the US, then transferring to my own PC over SSH. There's no way for the Australian government to stop me, no way for them to know what I was doing, and as far as I know no way to prosecute me for describing my illegal actions here.

Only because they currently have bigger fish to fry. If you were to become troublesome to those in a position of power, this would change rapidly, as is the case with selectively enforced laws.
posted by acb at 4:16 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, but I feel there are bigger fish to fry in terms of laws that have a detrimental effect on society, as well. I'm more concerned about the laws that enable the Northern Territory intervention, than the laws regarding what you can say about it.
posted by Jimbob at 4:23 PM on August 11, 2012


What America has is an unwillingness to modify its ideology* in the face of observations (Phelps etc) that would indicate that there are problems.

Americans who understand free speech don't consider Phelps a problem. Yes, he's anoying. But he's not a political candidate. No candidates are running on his platform. Outside of his clan, no Americans are looking to him for sage advice. He has his clan have marginalized themselves in society.

Now let's look at Australia. Her free speech laws have created a bit of a martyr out of this Andrew Bolt. And now Abbott, a candidate whose views might otherwise be odious to Australians, is gaining political support because 82% of them support a wider view of free speech.

Thinks about that. You make a good argument that Abbott is a hypocrite when it comes to free speech, but making hay out of this one issue could put him into office.

And has any of this stopped Australians from telling jokes about Aboriginals? Having horrible prejudices? Unfairly mocking them across the internet? No.
posted by sbutler at 4:34 PM on August 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


a candidate whose views might otherwise be odious to Australians, is gaining political support because 82% of them support a wider view of free speech.

Uh, cite please? That is a remarkably reductionist perspective onAustralian voting intentions coming from an American on the basis of a push-poll conducted on behalf of a right wing think take.

And has any of this stopped Australians from telling jokes about Aboriginals?

That is not the intention of the law. Christ, why is it so hard for people to understand this?
posted by smoke at 4:38 PM on August 11, 2012


The freedom to say anything is a privilege, one which is available unequally. Sections 18C & 18D provide a valid guide as to when that privlege needs to be curtailed to protect human rights.

Below are the salient points from Bromberg J's summary in Eatok v Bolt (my emphasis).
22. In reaching those conclusions, I have observed that in seeking to promote tolerance and protect against intolerance in a multicultural society, the Racial Discrimination Act must be taken to include in its objectives tolerance for and acceptance of racial and ethnic diversity. At the core of multiculturalism is the idea that people may identify with and express their racial or ethnic heritage free from pressure not to do so. People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying. Disparagement directed at the legitimacy of the racial identification of a group of people is likely to be destructive of racial tolerance, just as disparagement directed at the real or imagined practices or traits of those people is also destructive of racial tolerance.

23. I have not been satisfied that the offensive conduct that I have found occurred, is exempted from unlawfulness by section 18D. 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.

24. In coming to that view, I have taken into account the possible degree of harm that I regard the conduct involved may have caused. Beyond the hurt and insult involved, I have also found that the conduct was reasonably likely to have an intimidatory effect on some fair-skinned Aboriginal people and in particular young Aboriginal persons or others with vulnerability in relation to their identity.

25.I have taken into account that the articles may have been read by some people susceptible to racial stereotyping and the formation of racially prejudicial views and that, as a result, racially prejudiced views have been reinforced, encouraged or emboldened. In the balancing process, I have also taken into account the silencing consequences upon freedom of expression involved in the Court making a finding of contravention.

26. I have concluded that the conduct of Mr Bolt and the Herald & Weekly Times is not exempted by section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act from being unlawful because:
(i) it was not done reasonably and in good faith in the making or publishing of a fair comment, within the requirements of section 18D(c)(ii) of the Racial Discrimination Act; or
(ii) done reasonably and in good faith in the course of any statement, publication or discussion, made or held for a genuine purpose in the public interest, within the requirements of section 18D(b) of the Racial Discrimination Act.

27. On the basis of my findings, I am satisfied that each of Mr Bolt and the Herald & Weekly Times engaged in conduct which contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

28. I have made no findings of contravention in relation to the two blog articles. Those articles were relied upon for additional claims which were raised by Ms Eatock very late in the trial of the proceeding. It would have been procedurally unfair to Mr Bolt and the Herald &Weekly Times to have permitted Ms Eatock to pursue those additional claims.

29. As to the relief which should be granted by the Court, I intend to direct the parties to confer with a view to agreeing on orders to give affect to the Court’s reasons for judgment. I have indicated that the Court will make a declaration that Mr Bolt and the Herald &Weekly Times have contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. I have also indicated that I will make orders prohibiting the republication of the newspaper articles. In the absence of the publication of an apology, I will consider making an order for the publication in the Herald Sun of a corrective notice.

30. Finally, in dealing with the formulation of the orders to be made by the Court,I have observed that it is important that nothing in the orders I make should suggest that it is unlawful for a publication to deal with racial identification, including by challenging the genuineness of the identification of a group of people. I have not found Mr Bolt and the Herald & Weekly Times to have contravened section 18C, simply because the newspaper articles dealt with subject matter of that kind. I have found a contravention of the Racial Discrimination Act because of the manner in which that subject matter was dealt with.
To paraphrase polyglot, Yes, we censor statements lacking truth that disparage other people and cause them harm. No, that is not inherently evil. But it does make a good dog-whistle.
posted by Kerasia at 4:43 PM on August 11, 2012 [12 favorites]


Thinks about that. You make a good argument that Abbott is a hypocrite when it comes to free speech, but making hay out of this one issue could put him into office.

Abbott looks set to sweep into office on a historic landslide whether or not this issue has anything to do with it. Partly because of the right-wing press, and partly due to the legendary gormlessness of the federal Labor party and the fact that Gillard is a transparently expedient machine politician who has no principles that she would not compromise if the polls suggested doing so. The public aren't that keen on Abbott, but that's besides the point. Right now, Gillard could run against rectal cancer and rectal cancer would win with a landslide.
posted by acb at 5:07 PM on August 11, 2012 [4 favorites]


sbutler: Americans who understand free speech don't consider Phelps a problem. Yes, he's anoying. But he's not a political candidate. No candidates are running on his platform. Outside of his clan, no Americans are looking to him for sage advice. He has his clan have marginalized themselves in society.

Now let's look at Australia. Her free speech laws have created a bit of a martyr out of this Andrew Bolt. And now Abbott, a candidate whose views might otherwise be odious to Australians, is gaining political support because 82% of them support a wider view of free speech.

Thinks about that. You make a good argument that Abbott is a hypocrite when it comes to free speech, but making hay out of this one issue could put him into office.


Perhaps Phelps is a poor example because he goes too far and alienates even the most bigoted outside his circle of control. Consider instead your AM radio scene and Fox News then - there are no shortage of examples of very visible media people with large platforms making speech in the US that has concrete negative effects on certain classes there, like gays and blacks (if those are the right terms; you'll have to assume I intended to use the inoffensive forms).

As to Abbott's dog-whistle, it is what it is. Simplistic and disingenuous arguments appeal to simplistic people and we have plenty of them here too. That doesn't mean that our political process should abandon a nuanced and beneficial view of the world in favour of something simplistic that plays well in soundbites, i.e. absolutist free speech and damn the consequences. Certainly progress is slow, we get big setbacks from racist people and venal politicians who live by soundbites.

We'll get there eventually though, if only by generational turnover and education, which is why having some laws that prevent the media (majority owned by Murdoch as it is) from being used as a platform for hatred is important to break the cycle of hate between generations.
posted by polyglot at 6:43 PM on August 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


To paraphrase polyglot, Yes, we censor statements lacking truth that disparage other people and cause them harm. No, that is not inherently evil. But it does make a good dog-whistle.

Yes, it is inherently evil. Restricting someone's freedom of thought and expression to "help society" is only acceptable in a worldview that sees the individual person as a non-entity, worthless in himself or herself. Every person has a human right to free expression of their mind that trumps the Borg-like collective good as decided by The Powers That Be.

dog-whistle

This phrase appears to be a dog-whistle, in Australia as in the United States, with which people can attack the content of arguments for the supposed bad faith of their proponents.

Because Mill and Voltaire said so? History before and since then would tell you that they're not very correct. A willingness the declare something as "moral" without any analysis or even observation on its emergent effects in a complex society is blind ideology and not good public policy.

Actually, history shows that censorship -- and the idea that society cannot bear certain points of view, that its information must be "managed" -- is by far the more dangerous policy.

Where an evil point of view is truly resonant, it will thrive regardless, and 10x more so when censored and thus stamped martyr / forbidden fruit. Censorship is far more likely to effectively suppress minority viewpoints that offend the status quo, that seek to reform things or shake people up. Look at the history of religion and censorship for a good several centuries worth of examples.

It is only free speech and inquiry that can effectively counter bad ideas if they are to be countered at all.
posted by shivohum at 7:23 PM on August 11, 2012 [5 favorites]


Yes, it is inherently evil. Restricting someone's freedom of thought and expression to "help society" is only acceptable in a worldview that sees the individual person as a non-entity, worthless in himself or herself.

*whistling*
Freedom of thought is not restricted. Where did you get that idea?
posted by Kerasia at 7:32 PM on August 11, 2012


Actually, history shows that censorship -- and the idea that society cannot bear certain points of view, that its information must be "managed" -- is by far the more dangerous policy.

What a fine strawman you have there. No one here is proposing to "protect" society from certain concepts or "manage" information. There is a huge gulf between heavy censorship that keeps certain concepts from the populace or the repression of religion, and preventing bigots from using speech to harm others.

You accept, presumably, that laws are necessary in order to minimise harm? Ones freedom to swing a fist ends at their neighbour's nose, right? You must also realise that public incitement of hatred is a powerful swinging fist.

The difference is that in Australia, we're mostly willing to prevent the harm instead of standing blindly by an ideology and have a society overrun with people hell-bent on destroying others because they're different.

That is not to say we are stifling any useful form of political expression, unlike in the USA which just does it a bit more informally. The right to unlimited hate and the right to one's own "facts" instead of merely one's own opinions is, IMHO, a large part of why politics is so poisonously divided in the USA.

As I said, subtlety and observation of effects, not ideology. And a wilful misinterpretation of the laws we're actually discussing.
posted by polyglot at 7:53 PM on August 11, 2012 [3 favorites]


And now Abbott, a candidate whose views might otherwise be odious to Australians, is gaining political support because 82% of them support a wider view of free speech.

Eh, just to be clear, Abbott is the leader of one of the two main parties. He was previously a government Minister when that party was in power. He's not some populist come from nowhere on this one issue.
posted by Infinite Jest at 1:23 AM on August 12, 2012


No one here is proposing to "protect" society from certain concepts or "manage" information. There is a huge gulf between heavy censorship that keeps certain concepts from the populace or the repression of religion, and preventing bigots from using speech to harm others.

Your first sentence contradicts your second. "Preventing bigots from using speech to harm others" is a form of information management. Just because it's not Soviet-style repression does not make it ok. Anyone who's ever censored in the history of censorship says that all they're doing is protecting people from a few really evil, horrible, no-good, very-bad people, that's all, trust us, we know what we are doing.

You accept, presumably, that laws are necessary in order to minimise harm? Ones freedom to swing a fist ends at their neighbour's nose, right? You must also realise that public incitement of hatred is a powerful swinging fist.

Kind of hilarious that you use the fist/nose metaphor. You know where it comes from, right? John Stuart Mill - free speech absolutist. Speech was exactly the kind of thing that did not hit your neighbor's nose.

As I said, subtlety and observation of effects, not ideology.

Subtlety and observation of effects would show that censorship has always been defended with rationalizations about subtlety and observation of effects, and 99/100 times it's a bad thing.
posted by shivohum at 1:26 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]



Subtlety and observation of effects would show that censorship has always been defended with rationalizations about subtlety and observation of effects, and 99/100 times it's a bad thing.


Or not, as the case happens to be, perfectly ordinarily, in Australia and other countries.
posted by wilful at 1:34 AM on August 12, 2012


I think if Mill were alive today he'd probably cut us some slack. He never had to deal with the rise of mass media, the concentration of said mass media, the science of public relations/propaganda, and the telecommunications revolution.
posted by Ritchie at 4:11 AM on August 12, 2012


OK, let's go with the comparison to libel.

Let's see what I can dig up on the state of libel in the laws of the US. Since this isn't exactly a term paper I'm just gonna quote Wikipedia.

False statements of fact are an exception from protection of free speech under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. In United States law, a false statement of fact will not be exempt from some civil or criminal penalty, if a law has imposed one. This exception has evolved over time from a series of Supreme Court cases that dealt with issues such as libel, slander, and statutes which barred fraudulent solicitation of charitable donations.

A major limiting factor to this concrete First Amendment exception are statements made against public figures. In New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), the Court strongly suggested that even "deliberate lies" could not be punished if made against the government. Since that decision, many cases that have dealt with this rule have struggled to define the line of who actually is a 'public figure'. The Supreme Court has also extended this doctrine to non-political figures who are simply famous or well known in the media.

The United States Supreme Court first articulated the basis for excluding false statements of fact from First Amendment protection in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. (1974). In that case, a monthly newspaper was sued by a policeman's attorney. The newspaper "contained serious inaccuracies" about the attorney; namely, that he was supporting the police system as a goal to entrench a Communist conspiracy in the United States.[1] They held that a civil jury award against the newspaper was constitutional because "there is no constitutional value in false statements of fact".[1] Justice Powell, in writing the decision of the Court reasoned that false statements do not "advance society's interest in 'uninhibited, robust, and wide-open debate'". Even though he conceded that some false statements were inevitable, that did not mean that a system of liability meant to deter such behavior was impermissible.[2] Society had some interest in ensuring that debate covered truthful matters, as a key element of public participation in a democracy.[3]


I think the standard free-speech-absolutist approach to libel is to shout it down, i.e. "the solution to bad speech is more speech". I guess that's why public figures don't get protection against libel here: to be public, they need some followers to sing their praises. Those people will certainly call out any libelous claims against you. But if you don't have the benefit of popularity, what then? Is it up to you to get however popular you need to get in order to get your side of the story told? I don't think everyone has that power. Getting popular requires time and money, at the very least.

That's why it makes sense for the defamation of private figures to be excepted from First Amendment protections. Speech is good because you get ideas and information from it, right? Even if you get misinformation and bad ideas, the same conversation can also get you good information and ideas. Just so long as it is a conversation--one with at least two sides. When you're defaming a private figure who doesn't have the power to fight back, there isn't really a conversation, so the ethical value of free speech isn't there.

That rationale also applies to hate speech, provided that it's against a group that really can't talk back. Racial groups are really vaguely defined, so it's hard to get enough people together to mount a proper defense against racial villification--the racists are the only ones in the conversation who can agree on much of anything.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:58 AM on August 12, 2012


Funny dat, I forgot I was sitting here in Singapore until I tried to click on some sites linked in the curious comment or dig for more information - 503 errors.

In general, StarHub has an actual official notice if and when you reach a blocked page. A 503 might just be a technical problem. :)
posted by the cydonian at 8:03 AM on August 12, 2012


We've discussed this before ;p I'm not on Starhub and this is what I usually get ;p
posted by infini at 8:06 AM on August 12, 2012


polyglot: "The difference is that in Australia, we're mostly willing to prevent the harm instead of standing blindly by an ideology and have a society overrun with people hell-bent on destroying others because they're different."

Pardon me for harping on this, but what good has it done? Laws like that have a cost, but they might be worth it if evidence could be shown that racist speech and racist acts had been eliminated or at least minimized. Is there evidence to that effect?
posted by koeselitz at 9:20 AM on August 12, 2012


In the UK recently there have been some very high-profile cases where people who got videoed and put on YouTube saying racist things have been charged, and officers in the riots being racist have been suspended and charged. I don't have figures but I'd be amazed if the increased ability of people to catch these morons in the act, and the very public results of this, haven't had an impact and made racists citizens and police think twice before blurting out such crap. And I'd say that's a good thing, screw them.
posted by iotic at 10:26 AM on August 12, 2012 [1 favorite]


I make no excuses for Queensland, they're are the national joke

We're standing right here guys. Sheesh.

And there are the 11 copies of American Psycho available at my local library according to the online catalogue. You do have to be 18 to borrow it though, so I guess that makes it sort of banned?
posted by markr at 8:42 PM on August 12, 2012


We're standing right here guys. Sheesh.

Shit, it's a literate one!
posted by wilful at 8:49 PM on August 12, 2012


I suppose Queenslander vilification laws really would be pushing the envelope.
posted by de at 9:55 PM on August 12, 2012


As repeated up thread, Australia has an implied right to unabridged political speech.
This was upheld by the Supreme Court, and has the same gravitas as a US Supreme Court ruling on free speech (e.g. yelling fire). So even thought there is no delineated bill of rights listing free political speech, such a right exists in Australia (and it would be hard to see a set of circumstances where it was changed - perhaps a dictator takes over and stacks the court? Not in any business as usual political change anyway).
While I personally have mixed views on censorship, if it is going to exist in a society at least allow unfettered political speech.
There is much speech that is objectionable in , for example, the USA. Its defenders often argue it is important to defend even the patently objectionable due to a slippery slope, but my inclination is it is probably reasonable for society to draw a line somehow, as long as it doesn't impinge political speech (and, that is, you can have an argument about whether the line needs to be moved without being criminalised).
In my experience, in the first half of my biblical three score and ten, I have regularly felt the line has been drawn too conservatively.
MeFi willing, I'll report back in another few decades as to whether I think that is still the case, or if I then think the line is too liberal.
posted by bystander at 4:31 AM on August 13, 2012


As repeated up thread, Australia has an implied right to unabridged political speech.

I don't think this is correct. It has been successfully argued that there is some right of political speech insofar as it is necessary to hold Federal elections and referenda, but there is no constitutional right to political speech generally or indeed an "unabridged" right of any sort - the High Court was very clear that the right to political speech could be restricted by State or Federal law, as long as it does not
place an undue burden on those communications that are necessary to give effect to the choice in federal elections given by ss 7 and 24 and the freedom of communication implied by those sections and ss 64 and 128 of the Constitution.

posted by Joe in Australia at 5:38 AM on August 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


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