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Australiafilter: Back to the (18)50s, or a new comedic golden age
March 25, 2014 6:44 PM   Subscribe

Since winning government in September 2013 (previously) Australia's conservative Coalition Government has been causing controversy, recently leading to nationwide protests (previously). Undaunted, this week the Coalition voiced support for the rights of bigots (more on that issue here), and reintroduced Knights and Dames. So, where's a depressed politics junkie to turn? To comedy, of course! After a successful crowdfunding campaign, satirical political comedy collective A Rational Fear are producing a 10 week season of Australian political comedy.

Some ARF highlights so far:

#BlokesQuestion - A response to the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, shrugging off incisive questions from a group of 14 year olds and asking instead for 'a bloke's question' (previously).

Red Tape - A response to the Government's push for deregulation.

Re knights and dames: Which Knight of Abbott's Round Table Are You?. Bonus: Twitter had a field day - #KnightsAndDames #GameofTones

Vox Pops: [Attorney General] George Brandis says that people have the right to be bigots. Do you agree?

Bonus content:

Need more? A Rational Fear's live show podcast back-catalogue.

Author John Birmingham's Cheeseburger Gothic blog has an entertaining take on racism and knights, as did political cartoonist David Pope.

Following a standout speech by Greens Senator Scott Ludlum, in which Ludlum was particularly scathing on the subject of the the Prime Minister, the Senator went on to have a very entertaining Twitter fight with the editor of The Australian, Chris Kenny. Kenny has since left Twitter (it's apparently 'too dark' for him, poor thing).

And Twitter itself is a wealth of political jokes:

Dept. of Australia

ABC News Intern

Quality Jernalisms (not strictly political, but still funny)
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts (43 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
I thought the "Knights and Dames" link was going to lead to some medieval-themed bondage club on the outskirts of Canberra.
posted by benito.strauss at 6:52 PM on March 25


I thought the "Knights and Dames" link was going to lead to some medieval-themed bondage club on the outskirts of Canberra.

I think that would have actually invited less ridicule.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:56 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Australia uses a queen?
posted by univac at 7:36 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Well, OK, but all snark aside, as a card-carrying member of the ACLU I think it is an exceedingly bad idea to give the majority -- in the form of the government -- the power to suppress speech they don't like, even if someone really and truly does find it offensive.

It's for the same reason I support the right of the Nazis to march in Skokie. It's not that I give a flying *$@! about those idiots or their stupid ideas. It's because giving the government the power to STOP them from marching is, in the long run, a much, much worse idea.
posted by Alaska Jack at 7:36 PM on March 25 [3 favorites]


I have zero knowledge of Australian politics and yet I absolutely love Dept. of Australia.
posted by univac at 7:49 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


I think it is an exceedingly bad idea to give the majority -- in the form of the government -- the power to suppress speech they don't like

That's not how the law works though. From Tim Soutphomassane's piece in the SMH:
There has been recent debate about this legislation and what it says about racial hatred and vilification. The federal government wishes to “repeal in its current form” section 18C of the act, which makes it unlawful to commit an act that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race. Earlier this week, media reports speculated that possible legislative amendments may also include changes to section 18D, which exempts a number of speech acts from being in breach of the law.

Unfortunately, the debate reflects significant misunderstanding of how this law works. For example, it is frequently asserted that people can be “prosecuted” or “convicted” under the Racial Discrimination Act. It is regularly said that section 18C serves to protect hurt feelings at the expense of free speech.

Neither assertions are true. Just as you can't be prosecuted or convicted for civil negligence or defamation, you can't be subject to criminal penalty for racial vilification under section 18C. And when it concerns hurt feelings, the courts have interpreted section 18C in a clear and consistent manner since the 1990s. Unlawful conduct must cause “profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights”.
posted by awfurby at 7:51 PM on March 25 [8 favorites]


Well, OK, but all snark aside, as a card-carrying member of the ACLU I think it is an exceedingly bad idea to give the majority -- in the form of the government -- the power to suppress speech they don't like, even if someone really and truly does find it offensive.

Freedom of speech has always been a limited freedom. There are hate speech laws in the US too. But so you have the proper context, here's the law in question - s18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Here are the exemptions.

Section 18C has been in place for almost 2 decades with nary a complaint except from Andrew Bolt, conservative columnist and noted racist and liar, who fell afoul of the RDA in 2011 (previously).

[The @boltcomments Twitter feed publishes comments from Bolt's blog - it's pretty funny and should give you an idea of what Bolt's about]

The proposed replacement for s18C of the RDA proposes a blanket exemption to the prohibition of racial vilification and intimidation if it is done 'in the course of participating in the public discussion'.

'Public discussion' is not defined.

It is arguably so broad that nothing is prohibited at all. It certainly means that anyone who happened to have, say, a newspaper column or TV show can vilify and intimidate ethnic minorities to to their hearts' content. It's not particularly cynical to suggest that it was written expressly for Bolt, who is a darling of the Coalition.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 8:12 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


For the rest of the world who might not be "in" on these shenanigans: every few years Australia elects a "joke" Prime Minister as a sort of funny gag. It's just to lighten to national mood when things are getting a little grim, sort of like dressing up a clown in a doctor's outfit and putting him next to the bed of a terminal burn victim.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:22 PM on March 25 [14 favorites]




Tony Windsor on Twitter: "I thought I had seen the last of Tony Abbott tugging his forelock to a Windsor"
Oh, that's just beautiful...
posted by Pinback at 9:03 PM on March 25 [4 favorites]


Why didn't they just crowd source themselves a new government?
posted by Pudhoho at 9:20 PM on March 25


Why didn't they just crowd source themselves a new government?

From A Rational Fear
:
It is in the best interests of A Rational Fear to keep the Prime Minister in good health and in office for years to come.

The Prime Minister provides us with far too much content.
...
We also have concerns for the health of Clive Palmer and how it could impact our bottom line.

Ideally, we want him fit enough for work but also fit enough for twerk.

posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:28 PM on March 25


I don't think restoring knighthoods is such a bad thing. if you're going to have a constitutional monarchy, you may as well have its gongs and whistles. And Australia's connection with the Royal Family/Crown is separate from its relationship with Britain (that's why we speak of the Australian Royal Family, the Canadian Royal Family etc... if the UK abolished its monarchy tomorrow and nothing else changed, the Australian / Canadian/ etc... monarchy would still exist.). This move is similar to New Zealand's restoration of knighthoods in 2009. In Canada, no knighthoods are given because of the 1917 Nickel Resolution but the replacement Canadian honours system in current operation still stems from the Canadian monarchy.
posted by Bwithh at 9:35 PM on March 25


The Courier Mail getting in on the Knights and Dames comedy.

Really, it's an epically successful troll. The Coalition has effortlessly distracted everyone from the whole topic of their enabling hate speech by monied interests.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:14 PM on March 25 [2 favorites]


There are hate speech laws in the US too.

Citation?

I know there are hate crimes in the US that add penalties if a violent crime was racially motivated, but I've never heard of actual hate speech laws in the US (I have heard racists online whine about hate speech laws in the US, but I have always thought they are making those things up).

Seriously - we have holocaust deniers, the KKK marching in the streets, calls for violence against Muslims, women being screamed hatefilled things as they try to get reproductive medical care, politicians distributing depictions of our African-American president as an ape, open calls for armed overthrow of the US government broadcast on the radio...

And yes, there limitations to speech in the US - defaming individuals, slandering individuals, very narrow statutes regarding 'inciting violence' (think dude with a megaphone in front of an angry mob), copyright violations, truth in advertising, SEC regulations on distributing insider information, etc, etc... But I have never heard of a law in the US restricting any sort of 'hate speech'.

Please enlighten me if I'm wrong.
posted by el io at 10:26 PM on March 25


I know there are hate crimes in the US that add penalties if a violent crime was racially motivated, but I've never heard of actual hate speech laws in the US (I have heard racists online whine about hate speech laws in the US, but I have always thought they are making those things up).

You are, of course, correct. My apologies - I mixed things up a bit there. As I understand it, the First Amendment prevents the implementation of a law such as s18C of the RDA in the US (see eg RAV and the City of St Paul). Thanks for the fact check.

My broader point - that freedom of speech is and has always been a qualified freedom - stands.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:50 PM on March 25


The repeal of the federal hate speech provision was a longtime goal of Canadian Tories and conservative media types so I'm not surprised this is playing itself out again down there.
posted by maledictory at 11:10 PM on March 25


Personally, I appreciate it when people reveal their character through vile speech. I'm against hate speech laws for other reasons (the dominant majority often uses such laws to suppress minorities - think Pussy Riot), but when bigots are free to speak whats on their mind, I'm free to easily judge them.

Often times these bigots will helpfully use a phrase to keep you alert for the bigotry that's about to come out of their mouths... "I know it's not politically correct..."

It's annoying when I have to learn 'dog whistles' or subtle phrasing that only other bigots are meant to understand to identify the bigots.

While I certainly agree that there are limitations to speech, and should be, I also think the robust protections for speech are one of the greatest freedoms Americans enjoy*.

(*this may not apply to Muslim-American's, at this time, to our great disgrace)
posted by el io at 11:13 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Australia uses a queen?

I think the Australian support for the monarchist status quo comes from two sources, the True Monarchists - like Sir Tony,
and perhaps surprisingly from some of the left who see the monarch as an archaic empty distance abstract entity. But an abstract entity which is superior to the alternative of any actual present connected president, dripping with medallions, influence and self importance. The rejection of a republic at the previous referendum, was probably a rejection of the model proposed, not an endorsement of the monarchy.

The Queen doesn't get involved in Australian politics, but does seems to function as a kind of mythical uber-parent in the conservative weltanschauung.

At least until Charlie wants a turn, I think there are a lot of people who agree that the idea of a monarchy is absurd, but as long as Sir Tony wants the Queen to like him, hope the monarchy might actually be an institution which affects some moderation on the behaviour of conservative politicians.

This effect might not be a strong as I'd like it to be, but just imagine, even without executive power: ' President /Emperor for life Ruddock'
posted by compound eye at 11:17 PM on March 25


President /Emperor for life Ruddock

Welp, that's terrifying.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 11:23 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


It's not particularly cynical to suggest that it was written expressly for Bolt, who is a darling of the Coalition.

The funny thing is, Brandis was asked today to clarify the "public discussion" criteria, and stated that in his opinion, things "posted on a website" don't count as "public discussion". So based on that, shit Bolt dribbles on his blog would not be exempt from the law! Lawyers are going to have a field day with this.
posted by Jimbob at 11:38 PM on March 25


The funny thing is, Brandis was asked today to clarify the "public discussion" criteria, and stated that in his opinion, things "posted on a website" don't count as "public discussion".

Yep! He's a moron. It's exceedingly clear that he hasn't thought it through.

I imagine that, after the consultation, the proposed legislation will be amended to define 'public discussion'.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:50 AM on March 26 [1 favorite]


In Canada, no knighthoods are given because of the 1917 Nickel Resolution

Conrad Black gave up his Canadian citizenship because of the Nickel Resolution.
posted by bonehead at 5:57 AM on March 26


compound eye: The Queen doesn't get involved in Australian politics "

The current Queen has, in fact, gotten involved in Australian politics.

The 1975 Australian constitutional crisis (often known simply as "the Dismissal") has been described as the greatest political and constitutional crisis in Australian history. It culminated on 11 November 1975 with the removal of the Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam of the Australian Labor Party (ALP), by Governor-General Sir John Kerr, who then appointed the Leader of the Opposition, Malcolm Fraser, as caretaker Prime Minister.
posted by Jakey at 6:11 AM on March 26


>That's not how the law works though ... you can't be subject to criminal penalty for racial vilification under section 18C

I'm not sure that what you have quoted contradicts Alaska Jack's point that the legislation gives the government some "power to suppress speech they don't like", really. Non-criminal penalties can nevertheless be suppressive of speech (just look at Singapore, for instance), while the restriction to “profound and serious effects" would seem to me to be one of magnitude, rather than type.
posted by polychora at 6:16 AM on March 26


The Dismissal had nothing to do with the Queen, except perhaps symbolically, it was entirely between the Prime Minister and the Governer General.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 6:18 AM on March 26 [2 favorites]


That's true, but the symbolic authority of the Queen provides the basis for the existence of that largely unaccountable but notionally powerful appointee position. My (poorly made) point being that the Queen's authority is not just an abstract in Australian politics.
posted by Jakey at 6:33 AM on March 26


How efficient...creating officially recognized overclasses and underclasses in such short order.
posted by kjs3 at 7:20 AM on March 26


IANAL, but did take a US Constitutional Law overview class a couple of years ago. Broadly, the SCOTUS has ruled that you cannot criminalize bad belief, but you can criminalize bad behavior. Short of speech which is a direct incitement to violence or other criminal behavior (e.g. yelling "fire" in a crowded theater, inciting an already angry crowd to lynch a specific individual), the Court has generally ruled that you can have and express whatever vile views you want without criminal consequences.
posted by kjs3 at 7:35 AM on March 26






Welp, BC has just opened its parks to resource exploitation.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:03 PM on March 26


I think it is an exceedingly bad idea to give the majority -- in the form of the government -- the power to suppress speech they don't like

I think reasonable people can reasonably disagree on this but I would note that the above concern is far more pronounced in America than virtually anywhere else - certainly compared to Europe which had to live through Nazism.

Given that racial vilification is almost always directed at minorities lacking power and indeed typically representation in our overwhelmingly white, rich, old, male parliament and current government - I'm comfortable and convinced that aboriginals, working class immigrants etc need formal protection more than the millionaire bigots railing against them in our press and parliament.

If you read about the complaint that sparked this ridiculous devolution you may change your mind.
posted by smoke at 4:13 PM on March 26 [3 favorites]


[Not to derail the free speech conversation, but what did people think of the comedy?]/sotto voice
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:23 PM on March 26


Not to derail the free speech conversation, but what did people think of the comedy

I wasn't aware of ARF when they did the original series - and I can't go back and watch old satire because I will just cringe at what we know now. So I kicked them a little cash, based on other people's enthusiasm, and am now holding tight for the new content.
posted by Jimbob at 4:29 PM on March 26


So I kicked them a little cash, based on other people's enthusiasm, and am now holding tight for the new content.

One thing I love about this project is that there's no waiting. ARF are responsive and quick - they don't have to worry about interference from network execs, or the political biases of media oligarchs. They can basically react to the politics of the day in real time, and churn out quick online jokes.

I still love the live show/podcasts though.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:33 PM on March 26


Obviously talking about free speech in the context of this post is entirely on topic, but yet again we have US Americans quoting their Constitution and their Supreme Court, that have no relevance to the situation in any other country. (should I take this to MeTa, again, to be told that this is a US website and I should get used to it?)

Free speech is a right, but it's not the only right in play, and it is not a superior right to the right to live free from fear of racial vilification. The Racial Discrimination Act cannot possibly and will not ever be used to suppress the voices of minorities. There is no slippery slope here - there never has been and never will be. Australia is a long long way from totalitarianism, and the RDA is not part of a totalitarian system. Free speech absolutists shit me. No well governed country has complete free speech, it is simply a matter of where you draw the line, and Australia has (wisely in my view) drawn it a little bit further down the path than one particular large country that has an unhealthy obsession with 18th century philosophy. You don't have to be Noam Chomsky to realise that both countries have far greater risks to free speech than what's on the statute books, yet people bang on about the constitution, rather than discussing media diversity and modern propaganda.
posted by wilful at 5:19 PM on March 26 [12 favorites]


Hi Jakey,

I get your point, and from a theoretical view, from the view of what is possible, I agree with you whole-heartedly.

But from the perspective of how it seems to be working right now, I think I'm comfortable with what I've said. The Dismissal was so divisive and so damaging to Kerr personally, that rather that creating a precedent for further interventionist action by a governor general, I think the outcome and public response confirmed that the public expect the role to be a ceremonial proxy, for the absent and un-revered monarch, and has made governors general less likely to become directly involved in politics.
Until we can replace this whole mess with an enlightened anarcho-socialist peer consensus system, I don't mind the current governor general arrangement, it gives ultimate power to the person least likely to want to use it, someone who has already lead a distinguished career, and established a tremendous reputation, which they only stand to diminish through direct political involvement.

Creating a presidency could change this only for the worse. It be a renegotiation of the role of Australian head of state, and would re-open the possibility of an active head of state, and rather than a prestigious recognition for a life of public service, it could, especially with direct election, which gives accountability, but also introduces the idea of a 'mandate' and campaigning considerations, make the role an aspiration for all the power hungry would be little kings who never attained, or were not satisfied with prime ministership.

I think that represents a shift of power away from parliament and on to a single individual and I think that would be worse than what we have now.
posted by compound eye at 6:25 PM on March 26 [2 favorites]


Professor Simon Rice of the Australian National University dissects the proposed changes to s18C of the RDA here.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:50 PM on March 26


compound eye, I understand, and to an extent, share your misgivings on the wisdom of turning the GG post into an elected presidency. However, the current ceremonial status of the post is very much an implicit agreement and part of the "unwritten constitution" of the UK and, by legacy, parts of the commonwealth. I find such arrangements to be deeply unsatisfactory, as I believe they very much favour the establishment. To my mind, it would be better to create a presidency that is explicitly limited in a manner similar to what is currently understood for the GG.
There would be a risk in this approach in that the very act of starting the debate may result in the creation of a presidency which is not so limited, and approaches the kind of executive that you describe, which I agree would likely be worse in practice than the status quo. I suspect that you may be right in letting sleeping dogs lie, even if they're a little on the smelly side.
posted by Jakey at 9:42 AM on March 27 [1 favorite]


hi Jakey,

It's actually the very fact that the sleeping dog stinks so much, that I like.

Eventually we have to move to republic, and my reluctance to move over, is really just my tiny contribution to ensuring that we limit the new presidential role as you put it 'in a manner similar to what is currently understood for the GG.'

I want us to move to a republic in a national mood of, 'fuck I guess we better do it, No way that inbred moron Charles is going on the money', than in some orgasm of patriotic fervor, that's all high 5s and big ups for the elites. I don't mind the GG/Prez being respected, I just don't want to see republicanism re-invigorate with authority.

looks like this thread is winding down, nice talking to you Jakey.
posted by compound eye at 3:45 PM on March 27


Waleed Aly on the Racial Discrimination Act amendments:
That's what struck me most about the proposed legislation. It's just so . . . well, white. In fact it's probably the whitest piece of proposed legislation I've encountered during my lifetime. It trades on all the assumptions about race that you're likely to hold if, in your experience, racism is just something that other people complain about.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:01 AM on March 28 [3 favorites]




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