Category Archives: Indigenous Australians

When should free speech on race be constrained?

There’s an interesting court case going on at the moment in Melbourne involving a trollumnist and some remarks he made about particular members of a particular ethnic group. The trollumnist in question and his specific views and that specific case are not the focus of this post, but rather the general question of where precisely the line on commentary on race and culture should be drawn.

Obviously, suggesting or implying that someone fraudulently claims benefits to which they should not be entitled is already covered by defamation. The point of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 is to extend protections to offended groups rather than individuals.

It is possible it went too far.

We’ll see how the Court interprets what Parliament legislated, but let’s discuss what we think the rule should be – even if that requires a change to the Act itself.

For my part, I’d agree that there should be some limit. If you had an ideologue calling for Jewish shopkeepers to have their shops smashed, that should be over the line. If you had a crank inciting hatred against Muslims by declaring that they were evil and inventing a whole host of outrageous smears against them – well, maybe that would cross the line, depending on how extreme those claims were and how likely they were to devolve into violence.

But if you have someone arguing, contrary to the evidence, that no remedial assistance is needed for a particular disadvantaged group that happens to have a racial or cultural link – well, maybe that’s just part of political debate.

Where should we draw the line? How about – beyond hurt feelings, at the point at which targets who didn’t read such an article start to feel real consequences from it.

NOTE: I won’t be publishing any comments that directly refer to a case currently being heard.

Up there under the rest of us

Apart from the fact they’ve half the population of Tasmania (which, in turn, has a third of the population of the next most populous State, South Australia), why precisely should the people of the NT continue to be denied the privilege enjoyed by the rest of the country, of having the rights all the rest of us enjoy as inhabitants of official States?

Okay, it would be a bit disconcerting if the 230,000 Territorians had the same number of Senators as the 7.2 million New South Welshmen – but the 500,000 Tasmanians already do, so where do we draw the line? The point is that it’s absurd that there are regions in this country where citizens have fewer democratic rights than the rest of us enjoy.


No, Territorians, you can’t count the crocs to boost your numbers.

That said, I can’t see the seven million New South Welshmen and the five and a half million Victorians voting to dilute their already less than adequate upper house representation even further. So, short of redesigning the Senate as a proportionally-elected people’s house (complementing the locally-elected lower house), it seems unlikely that this will ever change. Sorry, Territorians

On the plus side, that means we in the rest of the country can keep overriding your decisions whenever you do something embarrassingly sensible that our politicians are too cowardly to do themselves, like legalising euthanasia.

Sorry, cultural freedom trumps religious control

So, the Wandjina controversy.

Now, I’m a little bit late on this, because it only came up on my podcast USB drive today, but I doubt it’s been resolved in the two months since. I also doubt it’s all that politically sensible for me to raise the subject, given that I am undoubtedly (as with the Uluru climb debate) going to be on the opposite side as most of my usual allies on this site – hell, looking at the comments to the Law Report episode linked to above, it appears that Andrew Bolt weighed in at the time, and although we’ll have come to it from completely contrary perspectives on the plight of indigenous Australians, we’ll likely have come to a similar conclusion in relation to this specific issue, something which disturbs me greatly and in relation to which the only comfort is the “even a stopped clock is right twice a day” aphorism – but I’m going to do it anyway, because I think there’s a lot of confusion and muddled thinking on the issue.

In essence, it’s about the outrage of an indigenous community and its supporters towards a non-indigenous gallery owner commissioning a work somewhat inaccurately representing an image sacred to them.

And the idea that perhaps our copyright law should be amended so that this sort of free expression by the artist who dared not to be born into a community which permits itself to represent this image becomes somehow prohibited. Maybe we could make copyright even more restrictive than it already is! Maybe we could give special copyright rights to ethnic groups, and your right to reproduce or enjoy them is determined by a blood sample. Perhaps we could extend copyright terms from the already absurd 70 years after the artist’s death to 70,000 years after the artist’s death. Perhaps we could just lock up all intellectual property forever in an unrecoverably entangled mess that results in vast masses of human culture and development being permanently lost.

You might guess that I’m not a big fan of this approach. Continue reading