The Australian editorial
Wednesday June 6
An outsider studying over-governance in Australia might wonder whether, lurking beneath our relaxed, live-and-let-live personas and belief in a “fair go”, we are a nation of sexist, racist, ageist, narrow-minded bigots. If not for a plethora of human rights, equal opportunity and anti-discrimination commissions, tribunals and boards at federal, state and territory level, would we insult and discriminate against those whose cultures, genders, religions and sexual orientations the nanny state thinks we despise? The Australian thinks not. To the contrary, such costly quangos and the legislation they enforce is ripe for reform, in the interests of free speech and taxpayers. Australians do not need a race commissioner earning $346,000. Nor, in its present form, do we need the repressive section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. It sets the bar so low that people engaging in legitimate debates can be branded racist for no good reason. The section notoriously was misused against former Queensland University of Technology students over Facebook posts and to persecute our late cartoonist Bill Leak over his take on bad parenting by some indigenous men.
The handling of the case against Nine Network presenter Sonia Kruger by the anti-discrimination division of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal is another example of Big Brother overkill. Many would agree and others disagree with Kruger that “there is a correlation between the number of people who, you know, are Muslim in a country and the number of terrorist attacks” and that she would like to see Muslim immigration stopped because “I want to feel safe, as all of our citizens do, when they go out to celebrate Australia Day”. She was entitled to speak her mind on a newsworthy matter of importance. As Sydney academic Steve Chavura writes, “Do we want the state telling citizens what they really meant by their utterances on immigration, Islam and Muslims, then punishing them for it?”
Despite nanny state overkill, one of the most unconscionable forms of abuse — inciting violence against individuals or groups — has been overlooked, ironically, for too long. In March, Janet Albrechtsen highlighted the vile conduct of the neo-Nazi Antipodean Resistance fringe group in inciting violence towards Jews, gay people and others. Posters proclaiming “Legalise the execution of Jews … Join your local Nazis” have appeared in Victoria, Queensland and NSW. Similar incitement was evident in 2012 when a boy was photographed in Sydney in a T-shirt that said: “Behead all those who insult the Prophet.” Insulting the prophet is a free-speech issue; urging people to behead those who do so is a violence issue.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman wisely is initiating laws under which those inciting or threatening violence on the basis of race, religion or sexuality will risk three-year jail sentences and $11,000 fines. It could serve as a model for other states. The move is a big win for Keep NSW Safe — an alliance of 31 community groups and leaders, representing hundreds of thousands of people — who have campaigned for three years. As spokesman Vic Alhadeff said yesterday: “Preventing incitement to violence is not about curbing free speech but about public safety.” Where they are necessary, laws to protect all Australians’ human rights must be precise and effective, such as that proposed by Mr Speakman.