Section 18C

The IPA’s opening statement to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ hearing into section 18C

The following remarks were given by the IPA’s Simon Breheny to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ hearing into section 18C in Melbourne yesterday. The opening statement was followed by questioning directed to Simon and the IPA’s Dr Chris Berg. Readers can watch the video at this link.


Freedom of speech is a basic Australian value.

A survey commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, published today, finds that ninety-five per cent of Australians say freedom of speech is important. Fifty seven per cent say it is very important.

Australia’s commitment to freedom of speech makes this country one of the most diverse, prosperous and socially welcoming on the face of the planet.

Laws that undermine free speech put at risk our success story as a socially inclusive nation.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is one of the most significant restrictions on freedom of speech in this country.

Along with the rest of the provisions in Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act, Section 18C ought to be repealed outright.

It is an excessive, unnecessary and counterproductive restriction on Australians’ liberties.

Alternative proposals for reform would not solve the problems with the legislation that have been identified by recent court cases involving section 18C.

Simply removing some of the words from the section or, worse, replacing them with new words, would be, in our analysis, either ineffective, or redundant, or create even more uncertainty about the scope of the law.

Some participants in this debate argue that freedom of speech is protected by section 18D. But section 18D is a weak and unstable foundation for such an important right.

Section 18D has been applied in just three out of more than 70 cases that have been decided by the courts since Part IIA was first inserted into the Racial Discrimination Act in 1995.

Nor should parliament imagine that section 18D provides any certainty about the law. In the QUT case Judge Jarrett noted a “conflict in the authorities about the way in which s.18D might operate.”

More fundamentally, section 18D places a burden on the respondent to prove why he or she should have the right to speak freely. This is not a requirement that a free country like Australia should be proud of.

Offence is not a moral trump card. Australia is driven by other values – including individual freedom and democracy. Section 18C harms these values.

We urge this committee to recommit to the liberal democratic values that make this country great, and to recommend the full repeal of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Thank you.

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Waleed Aly does not deserve a free speech prize

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Liberty Victoria have just announced that broadcaster Waleed Aly will receive their annual free speech award, the Voltaire Award.

Notably, he was not awarded the prize for actually supporting free speech, but rather his “contributions to many areas crucial to public life,” including on the topics of terrorism and treatment of refugees.

Aly is not being awarded for his views on free speech because he doesn’t actually support Voltaire’s axiom: I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

In a 2013 lecture, after giving the cursory statements in favour of free expression, he argued for retaining section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

He used the metaphor of the free market to argue against free speech, misusing the idea of ‘market power’ to silence voices he considers powerful:

If free speech is meant to be analogous to the free market, if bad ideas are to be vanquished by good ones in the contest of ideas, then what happens where that contest scarcely exists? Really, it’s like an abuse of market power: a kind of market distortion. There is at the very least a case to be made for regulating speech in these circumstances to ensure that the discourse of the socially empowered is held accountable in some way.

He, of course, seems to miss the point that government intervention in the free speech ‘market’ is an exercise of social power by the powerful, silencing ideas one group happens to find distasteful.

Aly went on to say that society should regulate the tone of inflammatory ideas:

We can also require that, particularly in the case of dangerously inflammatory ideas, that they are conducted with a certain tone that reduces the likelihood of some manner of social explosion.

Liberty Victoria’s decision to award a free speech prize to someone who does not support free speech makes a mockery of the supposedly prestigious prize.

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96 people who think section 18C should be reformed

The IPA has long argued that section 18C is a restriction on freedom of speech, and that it should be repealed. And we’re not alone – we’ve compiled a list of 96 prominent individuals and organisations who have publicly argued that section 18C goes too far.

The list even includes many figures on the left that believe section 18C catches conduct that should not be subject to legal sanction, including The Age, David Marr and Jonathan Holmes.

Read the full list for yourself here.

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So-called “Science Guy” open to jail-time for sceptics of a scientific theory

A scene from Explorer: Bill Nye's Global Meltdown. (Photo Credit: NG Studios)

Popular U.S. television personality Bill Nye is the latest public official to show contempt for free speech and intellectual inquiry.

Known for the PBS show he hosted in the 1990s, Bill Nye the Science Guy, Nye is a prominent advocate for action on climate change. And when Climate Depot’s Marc Morano recently asked him what he thought of Robert Kennedy Jr.’s comments that some climate sceptics should be prosecuted as war criminals, Nye seemed supportive. The Washington Times reports:

“We’ll see what happens… In these cases, for me, as a taxpayer and voter, the introduction of this extreme doubt about climate change is affecting my quality of life as a public citizen… So I can see where people are very concerned about this, and they’re pursuing criminal investigations as well as engaging in discussions like this.”

The irony of quashing dissent in the scientific community was apparently lost on Nye, who added “That there is a chilling effect on scientists who are in extreme doubt about climate change, I think that is good.”

The mere fact such a position could be seriously contemplated by a public intellectual, let alone a member of the scientific community — which holds scepticism as a central plank of the scientific method — is a sad reflection on society.

But this won’t come as a surprise to readers of FreedomWatch. Whether through trigger warning and microagression policies in the U.S., the scourge of “no-platforming” in the U.K., free speech is under a sustained attack across the Western world.

Last year alone Australia witnessed Bjørn Lomborg’s acceptance, and subsequent expulsion, from a position at the University of Western Australia — not for being a climate sceptic, but for being insufficiently supportive of the anti-fossil fuel agenda promulgated by the Greens.

Then there is the atrocious behaviour of an academic at Queensland University of Technology, Cindy Prior, who has taken a group of students to court under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. The students supposed crime was a few innocuous Facebook posts about being kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. These statements included:

“Just got kicked out of the unsigned indigenous computer room. QUT [is] stopping segregation with segregation” [and] “My Student and Amenity fees are going to furbish rooms in the university where inequality reigns supreme? I believe if we have to pay to support these sorts of places, there should at least be more created for general purpose use, but again, how do these sorts of facilities support interaction­ and community within QUT? All this does is encourage separation and inequality.”

I still have enough faith in the Australian legal system to hope this case will be thrown out. But it is still likely to leave these young students with excessive legal bills of more than $200,000.

It’s at this point that I’m reminded of the words of the great NSW upper house MP, Peter Phelps:

“We should not be so surprised that the contemporary science debate has become so debased. At the heart of many scientists — but not all scientists — lies the heart of a totalitarian planner.”

Maybe Phelps’ statement could be extended to other areas of academia, as well.

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QUT case is “peak stupidity”

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Columnist at The Australian Janet Albrechtsen has a must-read article ($) summing up the “stupidity” about how a Facebook post from a QUT student has led to a three year legal saga, and why this law perverts “our history as the product of the Enlightenment”:

You can hardly blame Prior for slogging it out in the courts. The law — section 18C — invites her to put her alleged pain ahead of freedom of expression.

And the deceptively labelled Human Rights Commission is there to usher the case into court, bypassing the most basic human right — to speak freely.

… The free speech implications of Prior’s case are equally horrifying.Defamation laws rightly exist to protect people’s reputation. But section 18C is a direct hit on words that merely hurt someone’s feelings. Cementing feelings into our laws has ousted the right to speak freely. And the damage to our basic liberties is immeasurable.

In 2011, columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching section 18C for expressing his views on how people identify as indigenous. Late last year, Martine Delaney, Greens candidate for the federal seat of Franklin, complained to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission that pamphlets produced by Hobart’s Catholic Archbishop Julian Porteous defending marriage were offensive and breached the state Anti-Discrimination Act 1998. The commission agreed that the Archbishop has a case to answer.

… That section 18C still exists at all is a broader perversion of our history as the product of the Enlightenment.

Continue Reading →

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Racial discrimination laws now used to punish anti-racist sentiment

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As reported yesterday, QUT academic Cindy Prior is seeking nearly $250,000 as part of a section 18C complaint against students and other staff at the university. My colleague Simon Breheny was published in The Australian today, on what this all means:

The case is a sad indictment on the state of free and open debate in Australia. In my opinion, the comments in question would offend only a hypersensitive individual, and none of them are directed at Prior’s particular “race, colour, or national or ethnic origin” – the basis of offence required by the Racial Discrimination Act. Prior isn’t named, and the comments don’t seem to exhibit any form of bigotry or racial intolerance.

So ridiculous is the application of Australian racial vilification laws that they can now be used to punish anti-racist sentiment. The comments above are an endorsement of the idea that students at the university should all be treated equally – no matter their race.

But 18C is now used as a gag to any debate about race and ethnicity.

Continue reading here.

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For Triggs, keeping section 18C is a win for freedom

From Gillian Triggs in The Conversation today:

One of Australia’s most effective safeguards of human rights is the cultural expectation that freedoms will be protected. Most Australians are unlikely to be able to describe the doctrine of the separation of powers. But they’re quick to assert their liberties under the rubric of a “fair go” – a phrase that’s as close to a bill of rights as Australia is likely to get.

This cultural expectation is what keeps our freedoms alive today – as was illustrated by the overwhelming community response to Operation Fortitude. And to preserve Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act when the Abbott government proposed stripping out legislative provisions protecting ethnic groups from hate speech.

Got that? Community opposition to maintaining a law which makes it unlawful to offend or insult another person was an example of keeping our “freedoms alive”.

Dreadful to think our taxpayer-funded Human Rights Commission President has such a weak grasp on human rights, such as freedom of speech.

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EXCLUSIVE: Head of the Press Council joins forces with GetUp!

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Professor David Weisbrot

The Australian Press Council “is responsible for promoting good standards of media practice, community access to information of public interest, and freedom of expression through the media.”

The Press Council holds itself out as an organisation dedicated to high standards of integrity, and as an independent arbiter of complaints relating to media in Australia.

So it’s of great concern to see that the head of the Press Council, David Weisbrot, has agreed to be a board member of a new activist litigation fund being established by the left-wing advocacy group GetUp!

This is more than a general problem about the independence of the Press Council. GetUp! has run a series of campaigns which demonstrate how inappropriate it is for the Press Council to join up with it.

Here are three of the most recent examples:

Continue Reading →

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