Bolt and the right to be a bigot

The ABC News report on the government’s legislation to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, motivated by the Bolt case, makes interesting reading. Foreshadowing the legislation designed to prevent future cases of this kind, AG George Brandis notes that it defends “the right to be a bigot“.

Brandis didn’t draw the obvious implication, but he didn’t have to. Bolt has made a career out of pandering to the bigotry of his audience. As with others in the crowded field of rightwing journamalism, it’s not clear whether Bolt himself is a bigot, or whether he just plays one on the Internet, but the act is loud enough to please his ignorant and bigoted readers, and skilful enough to earn him plenty of friends among people who should know enough to be ashamed of themselves.

I don’t have a fixed view on the legislation in question, but my feeling is that racial bigotry should, at the least, be an aggravating factor in cases of individual defamation. If that rule were applied, the plaintiffs in the Bolt case would almost certainly have received substantial damages in individual defamation actions, given the findings that Bolt’s racially loaded claims about them were factually false and “not made reasonably and in good faith”.

Update I should have mentioned that “bigot” is a euphemism for the R-word, which our defenders of free speech insist must never be applied to anyone, with the exception of one person who is excluded here by virtue of Godwin’s Law.

104 thoughts on “Bolt and the right to be a bigot

  1. Brandis has released the proposed “Bolt’s Law”:

    Freedom of speech (Repeal of S. 18C) Bill 2014

    The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 is amended as follows:

    Section 18C is repealed.
    Sections 18B, 18D and 18E are also repealed.
    The following section is inserted:

    “ It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
    the act is reasonably likely:
    to vilify another person or a group of persons; or
    to intimidate another person or a group of persons,

    and
    the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of that person or that group of persons.
    For the purposes of this section:
    vilify means to incite hatred against a person or a group of persons;
    intimidate means to cause fear of physical harm:
    to a person; or
    to the property of a person; or
    to the members of a group of persons.
    Whether an act is reasonably likely to have the effect specified in sub-section (1)(a) is to be determined by the standards of an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community, not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community.
    This section does not apply to words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.”

  2. I am verry much *not* a youthful socialist Jim so why do you give me this silly quote? That quote that goes if you are not a socialist when you are young you do not have a heart but if you are still a socialist when you are old you do not have a brain. Sadly I must not have a brain. But I assure you I am not the sort of socialist that you imagine.

    And surely you do not believe that socialists are your enemy these days, not here not in Australia? That is bizzare. Truly bizzare.

    I have heard some good things about Mises but if your quote is the best he can do as a critique of Socialism I am not sorry I have not bothered to read any of his stuff. That paragraph is extraordinarily wrong. What logical considerations? How does it around a sense of personal interest? FFS a sense of personal interest is surely what Captialism relies on, no? So why is it wrong when socialism does it? Oh I am confused. No wonder I am not a rightie. Can’t keep up with the twisted and subtle reasoning.

    And then “primitive instincts”!! Good grief what year was this man writing?

    Why do cartoonists do anything Jim? Do you know any of these strange people? I don’t but I can’t imagine anyone more disgusting than Larry Pickering.

    I really fail to see what your point is but that is typical of your wanderings around the inside of your vacuous mind that is filled with self-serving irrationality – perhaps paranoid – and definitely filled with emotional arguments about how people who you refer to as ‘you lot’ are so mean to you poor righties, poor Jim and poor Ronald Reagan.

    Couldn’t you find any examples of the ýou lot’ people here being mean to Tony Abbott or are you still looking that up?

  3. Terje I am very confused about your reputation not being your property. I thought that was important.

  4. If they changed “vilify” from incitement of hatred to incitement of violence I would be okay with the Proposed Brandis version. As it is I think it is still too restrictive. But an improvement none the less.

  5. p.s. I agree that intimidate should be illegal. Only the government should be allowed to intimidate. As in pay your taxes or we will put you in a cage. And even then it’s morality is very questionable.

  6. @Jim Rose
    “In the 1980s, a top cartoonist went in search for Ronald Reagan’s brain. Was that hateful and bigoted?”
    No, it was hilarious. Sometimes the right can be so humourless …

  7. @TerjeP
    I can sort of see what you’re getting at, Terje – we need to have a way to make bigots ashamed of themselves. I reckon making the expression of bigotry illegal (and, by extension, socially unacceptable) is probably more effective than pointing and laughing, though.

  8. @Jim Rose
    In the 1980s Garry Trudeau drew a number of cartoons in which one of his regular Doonesbury characters, journalist Roland Hedley, was depicted as exploring Reagan’s brain (he wasn’t searching for it, he was trying to find out what was going on inside, on his second trip specifically in the context of Iran-Contra). It is relevant to note that the character was already established as a gullible narcissistic sensationalising buffoon: he was clearly not a simple mouthpiece for Trudeau.

    It is true that the cartoons implied scorn for and mockery of Reagan. But mockery is not the same thing as bigotry. Particularly in the context of Iran-Contra, mockery of Reagan was wholly appropriate.

  9. The Attorney General has engaged in a ‘bait and switch’.
    Discussion of the draft change is likely to focus, as comment here seems to have done, on the limitation of s18C to racial vilification and racial intimidation. But the big change is in the removal of s18D and its replacement with complete protection of communication in the course of public discussion.
    The former provision applied to anything done reasonably and in good faith: Bolt could not and did not pass this threshold (in the racial discrimination act case he lost). Now he won’t have to.
    It is difficult to imagine any public communication – at a rally, in print, or in a blog – that would not be automatically protected by the new protection. It doesn’t matter if the communication is in bad faith: knowingly false: absurdly unfounded – like Bolt’s publications.
    If it is a form of public communication it must be in the course of public discussion, whether there is already a discussion along the lines it feeds or whether it initiates the discussion.
    The ‘blood libel’, and the master plan for world domination, can be put forward from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and offered as justification for eliminating the civil rights of Jews. And this would be absolutely protected, though no one nowadays could put forward the Protocols reasonably or in good faith.
    Accordingly the new proscriptions of racial vilification and racial intimidation will apply only to private or secret abuse: which will never be actionable unless someone happens to have recorded it legally (as with the public transport rants of recent memory).

  10. @ TerjeP

    Only the government should be allowed to intimidate. As in pay your taxes or we will put you in a cage. And even then it’s morality is very questionable.

    What drivel. Property rights (as per any philosophy you care to name) over the Australian continent was finalised in the years following the landing of the First Fleet. The Land belonged to the British Crown and their unwritten constitution at first before Federation in 1901 under the new Australian Constitution altered the ownership structure. As property owners the Constitution lays out the set of conditions for use of the Australian Governments property, i.e. exactly the same type of rights that libertarians hold so dear, except by some strange alchemy they arbitrarily dismiss the organisation known as the Australian Government’s ownership claim. We don’t live in a dictatorship, so there are two wholly feasible options: stay and abide by the rules as prescribed, or emigrate to somewhere where the rules are more to your liking. You don’t like taxes? Fine. But knock off the whole “woe is me, oppressed at gunpoint” crap.

  11. Someone who describes people as;

    ‘to please his [ignorant and bigoted] reader’

    or as;

    “people who should know enough to be ashamed of themselves.”

    is a person who is intolerant of any ideas other than his own.

    On another point;

    “the crowded field of rightwing journamalism”

    The statement should read:

    ‘the crowded field of leftwing journamalism’

    as a recent survey of Australian journalists found;

    “43.0% said they would give their first preference vote to Labor; 30.2% would vote for the Coalition; and 19.4% said they would choose the Greens – about twice the Australian average.”

  12. @J-D
    Further on the subject of mockery: the weak, the poor, the lowly, the marginalised, the disadvantaged should not be mocked; regular mockery of Presidents, Prime Ministers, chief executives, judges, generals, admirals, archbishops, Ayatollahs, Directors-General, Vice-Chancellors, police commissioners, editors-in-chief, senior officers of all kinds, et hoc genus omne is essential.

  13. @Jim Rose
    Jim – I like your definition of Socialism -I like how it takes peoples feelings into account . Extreme capitalism has always seemed a bit ,as you say ,cold and hard.

  14. You probably don’t know you are a bigot, if you are ignorant and so lacking in self control as to be one.

    Brandis knows full-well that being a bigot has nothing to do with incendiary hate speech; you can spend you life hating other people all you want to if that is what you want or is an emotional desert you lack the wit to be able to escape. But when you behaviours impact on others through your incitement, that is a different story.

    They want to make bigotry normative, a worthy state from where you can portray rationality and rationally outlined dissent as sissy; a symptom of instability and abnormality.

    Since I am not allowed to employ recent European history as a source for an example, even after watching yet another doco on a specific instance on SBS last Friday night for an example of where this ends up leading,
    I will add no more.

  15. @SJ
    “I watched the clip”
    I think there’s a support group for people who have experienced Chris Berg. Sadly though some never recover …

  16. I’m in Germany so I’ve only just found out that, as well as amending the Act to protect Bolt and allow everyone to be bigots, Abbott is now also bringing back Knights and Dames.

    I leave the country for five minutes and look what happens!

  17. Val, as my nanna used to say,

    ” Things are crook in Tallarook
    and not much better back a’ Bourke”.

  18. Hmm.

    I sacrificed the first chance of all to go to Terje’s link.

    I sacrificed this opportunity for a stroll ’round the corner to the local where they were doing a blues open mike.

    Can you believe I was so stupid?

  19. ‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’
    ‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’
    ‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

    …with apologies to Lewis Caroll

  20. It is about disagreeing with someone but allowing them the right to be heard. Trying to shut someone up via the legal system because you find their views odious can result in matters not been properly dealt with by politicians and society and inevitably lead to an outburst similar to the One Nation phenomenon.

  21. oh dear … the automod machine strikes again:

    On the question of the status of “free speech” in pluralistic societies …

    No society in the world

    A) defines free speech as untrammelled expression of ideas

    and

    B) protects that “free” speech

    Even the most liberal and pluralistic jurisdictions impose constraints on the exercise of expression based on their conception of “the public good”. It’s obvious why this must be so. Any legitimate expression of the sovereignty of the community must take into account what will best serve their common interest, and when the exercise of a given act of free expression causes more harm than it is worth, states curtail it.

    Sometimes states overstep of course, overstating the harms associated with particular speech acts and/or out of malice or some other anti-social cause, but there can be no doubt that there is a line beyond which the permission to freely express a given thought would subvert legitimate community interests. The conclusion is forced: free speech is not an absolute right or one that can inevitably vitiate other rights or legitimate interests, but rather, one that is simply part of a mix of broader claims to freedom people have.

    It is fair to say that the right to express ideas without legal or extra-legal harassment is an important indicator of the degree of freedom in a given society and therewith the legitimacy of governments issuing from the political processes obtaining, but to fet|shise it as many in the right do when it suits them is pure cant.

    These folk aren’t troubled at all by defamation laws, laws against publication of prur|ent material involving children, insider trading, industrial and military espionage, contempt of court or violation of privacy, publication of addresses of people in the w|tness protection program and probably one or two other things I haven’t mentioned.

    Such laws seek to reconcile other interests the community has with the broader desire not to be imposed upon by the state. People want freedom, but most realise that unless some freedoms are curtailed, in practice their total freedom will be prejudiced.

    So the question becomes not a boolean — free speech or not? — but rather, a more complex set of questions — which curtailments and by which parties in what circumstances and with what sanctions serve the public interest? The question of the public interest goes to the heart of good faith defences in cases such as the Bolt matter.

    Sections 18C and 18D seem to strike this balance pretty well. One can support these while still claiming at a minimum to support the quality of free speech that obtains in many jurisdictions that most would regard as “free societies”.

  22. Ah. forgot that the machine deprecates the term “mal|ce” with an “i”. Please delete last two

    On the question of the status of “free speech” in pluralistic societies …

    No society in the world

    A) defines free speech as untrammelled expression of ideas

    and

    B) protects that “free” speech

    Even the most liberal and pluralistic jurisdictions impose constraints on the exercise of expression based on their conception of “the public good”. It’s obvious why this must be so. Any legitimate expression of the sovereignty of the community must take into account what will best serve their common interest, and when the exercise of a given act of free expression causes more harm than it is worth, states curtail it.

    Sometimes states overstep of course, overstating the harms associated with particular speech acts and/or out of mal|ce or some other anti-social cause, but there can be no doubt that there is a line beyond which the permission to freely express a given thought would subvert legitimate community interests. The conclusion is forced: free speech is not an absolute right or one that can inevitably vitiate other rights or legitimate interests, but rather, one that is simply part of a mix of broader claims to freedom people have.

    It is fair to say that the right to express ideas without legal or extra-legal harassment is an important indicator of the degree of freedom in a given society and therewith the legitimacy of governments issuing from the political processes obtaining, but to fetishise it as many in the right do when it suits them is pure cant.

    These folk aren’t troubled at all by defamation laws, laws against publication of prurient material involving children, insider trading, industrial and military espionage, contempt of court or violation of privacy, publication of addresses of people in the witness protection program and probably one or two other things I haven’t mentioned.

    Such laws seek to reconcile other interests the community has with the broader desire not to be imposed upon by the state. People want freedom, but most realise that unless some freedoms are curtailed, in practice their total freedom will be prejudiced.

    So the question becomes not a boolean — free speech or not? — but rather, a more complex set of questions — which curtailments and by which parties in what circumstances and with what sanctions serve the public interest? The question of the public interest goes to the heart of good faith defences in cases such as the Bolt matter.

    Sections 18C and 18D seem to strike this balance pretty well. One can support these while still claiming at a minimum to support the quality of free speech that obtains in many jurisdictions that most would regard as “free societies”.

  23. @faust
    According to you, if we make efforts to discourage people from saying hateful things, the effect will be to encourage people to say hateful things. Therefore, if you are right, every possible course of action leads to people saying hateful things.

    This would be a congenial conclusion for you, as somebody who in another recent comment indicated that you regarded riling people as a reasonable or even a commendable motivation for government action.

    This vicious attitude of yours is part of the problem, and this makes it regrettably necessary to treat anything you have to say about coping with the problem as if it is irretrievably dishonest.

    So you have nothing of value to contribute to this particular discussion. Please leave it alone.

  24. SECT 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.

    Brandis et al seem to only talk about 18C – I would be very interested to know whether anyone has put forward a reasonable argument that 18D blocks any contribution which is legitimately part of public discourse.

    One possible argument might be that 18D places the onus on the person or people complained against to show that they can meet the standard. But that doesn’t seem too much of a problem – it if makes someone stop and think before making a statement, is that a bad thing?

    In the absence of argument that 18D does not adequately protect debate, then Brandis’s position seems to imply that being offensive for the sake of being offensive should be part of public discourse. And I don’t buy that.

  25. @faust Its fairly obvious that the ruling class are happy with the current laws regarding slander, libel and defamation and unhappy that their rights to bigotry are limited.

  26. @J-D

    Not that it matters much but I’d be astonished if Jim Rose had not heard of Bolt prior to the RDA matter. Rose is regularly cites texts far more obscure and far less contemporary than Bolt and it’s counter-intuitive to think someone as prominent in public space would not have been raised with him by someone who shares his evident interest in public affairs.

    I have this image of someone talking with Rose in real life pre-Eatock about Bolt, describing his flaws and Rose throwing up his hands and saying “who?”

    I pay no attention to football but even I’ve heard of James Hird. 😉

  27. TerjeP:

    Only the government should be allowed to intimidate. As in pay your taxes respect other people’s property rights or we will put you in a cage. And even then it’s morality is very questionable.

    Very questionable.

  28. I was wailing the blues.. very therapeutic in the end. They were old bastards most of them.. then I looked in the mirror in the dunny…@Val

  29. Desipis – let me reword what I said and see if it makes things clearer.

    Verbal intimidation should be illegal for all parties and persons with the following exceptions:-

    i) in cases of self defence. eg get out or my house or I’ll hit you with this chair.
    ii) in cases of referral to government. eg get out of my house or I’ll call the police.
    iii) where undertaken by the government but within the constraints of law. eg get out of this mans house or we will arrest you.

    Saying at a public rally that Alan Joyce is a bad CEO and that somebody should hence put a bullet through the back of his head ought to see you charged for inciting violence. Even if you later say sorry. And even if that’s how your mates in the union movement like to talk.

  30. @Fran Barlow
    I’ve never heard of James Hird.

    But what I was wondering about was not how much knowledge Jim Rose might have personally of Andrew Bolt.

    If it’s true that the complaint drew more attention to Bolt, that would seem to have the following implications:

    if attention to Bolt is evaluated positively, the complaint could be as well;
    if attention to Bolt is evaluated negatively, the complaint could be as well;
    if attention to Bolt is not automatically evaluated either as positive or as negative, that also applies to the complaint.

    Somebody who makes an issue of this might be thinking that people who supported the making of the complaint don’t want attention drawn to Bolt. But that doesn’t have to be the case. How people feel about attention being drawn to Bolt probably depends on what kind of attention it is.

    Since Jim Rose was the one who made an issue of this, it seemed reasonable enough to ask about he felt about attention being drawn to Bolt.

    It’s also worth drawing attention to the rhetorical strategy.

    A complains about X; B says ‘complaining only draws attention to X’. B in fact sympathises with X but is strategically avoiding admitting it. A may have no problem with the drawing of attention to X, depending on what kind of attention it is; pointing this out is an appropriate strategic riposte. B’s tactic depends on the hidden assumption ‘you don’t want to draw attention to X’; A may be tricked into accepting this assumption so long as it remains hidden, so dragging it out into the open and examining it is just the thing to do.

  31. John, with your permission?

    Fran, I have not lived in Australia for coming on 20-years.

    Unless Bolt wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald I would have not piked up on him.

    Most newspapers worth reading are behind pay-walls now, so my ignorance can only increase.

  32. @Jim Rose

    OK then, so what you’re saying is that in the case of folk who have been outside the country for 20 years and who only look at the SMH, drawing attention to him might have lifted his profile.

    It’s not really much of a claim then as presumably, what most here are interested in is his impact on those who do live here.

    I still find it surprising that you’d not have heard of him until fairly recently, but if you say so then I accept that.

  33. TerjeP,

    I was poking fun at your propertarianism in that comment; not your views on free speech. Although I do wonder if you would include drowning a Prime Minister as an incitement to violence so as to be consistent with your inclusion of shooting a CEO.

  34. Although I do wonder if you would include drowning a Prime Minister {and the leader of another party} as an incitement to violence so as to be consistent with your inclusion of shooting a CEO.

    Let’s not forget Bob Brown …

  35. This is attributed to the late Justice Lionel Murphy ‘free speech is only what is left over after due weight has been accorded to the laws relating to defamation, blasphemy, copyright, sedition, obscenity, use of insulting words, official secrecy, contempt of court and parliament, incitement and censorship’.

    If Brandis was genuine he would be tackling the bigger impediments to free speech (it was Howard who brought in sedition laws).

  36. Desipis – yes Jones comments about Gillard were inappropriate and probably warranted at least a police cautioning. Although the union official that suggested a bullet for the back of Joyce’s head was a more potent and graphic example.

  37. rog – I thought the sedition laws had a sunset clause and no longer applied. I’d be keen to know.

  38. @Benjamin O’Donnell

    “I agree that Bolt should really have gone down for good old fashioned defamation rather than ..”

    In a sense I agree with you.

    The trouble is, defamation actions tend to be very expensive, relative to the income of most people. Furthermore, defamation relates to individuals and not to groups (please correct me if I am wrong).

    As a casual observer, it seems to me legislation, enforceable via civil law, tends to be framed without considering the relative cost (relative to an individual’s income or wealth) of enforcement. Similarly, some discussions of the merit of legislation tend to ignore the relative cost (again relative to an individual’s income or wealth) of enforcement. Alternatively put, wealth distribution matters for justice for all.

  39. When the Nazis came for the communists,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a communist.

    When they locked up the social democrats,
    I remained silent;
    I was not a social democrat.

    When they came for the trade unionists,
    I did not speak out;
    I was not a trade unionist.

    When they came for the Jews,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn’t a Jew.

    When they came for me,
    there was no one left to speak out

    Martin Niemöller

  40. “When they began to attack the aborigines,
    I remained silent;
    I wasn’t an aborigine….”

    As an aside, I’ve noticed that ‘Godwin’s Law’ doesn’t seem to apply to the establishment media and political class when vilifying Putin/Russia for some reason.

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