Team Australia

George Brandis’ spectacular live meltdown over metadata retention has distracted attention from the abandonment of the government’s plans to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, prohibiting the kind of racial abuse dished out by the likes of Andrew Bolt and Fredrick Toben. Abbott’s rationale is that a purist attitude to freedom of (racially divisive) speech is something we can’t afford, given the need to unite against terrorism.

Obviously, neither Bolt nor Toben is a member of Team Australia[1]. Each makes it their primary business to stir up hatred, in Toben’s case against Jews and in Bolt’s case against (among many others) the “muslims, jihadists, people from the Middle East” he sees as responsible for Abbot’s backdown. The striking conflation of religion, geographical origin and terrorism is typical of Bolt’s approach.

Horrible as he is, though, Toben is not a serious problem. His Holocaust denialism is universally reviled, and it is a sign of strength, not weakness, in our democracy that he is free to walk the streets. Repealing the constraints imposed on him by 18C would only emphasise this.

Bolt is another story. It is his case that led the government to seek the repeal of 18C, and that motivated George Brandis’ gaffe (that is, a politically inconvenient statement of an actual belief) that people have a right to be bigots. Far from being reviled, Bolt has been embraced and coddled by the government, to the point of having exclusive access to the Prime Minister. He enjoys a well-rewarded position in the Murdoch Press. Even casting the net wider among our so-called libertarians, I’ve can’t recall seeing a harsh word against Bolt. He’s a tribal ally and his bigotry is either endorsed or passed over in silence.

It’s impossible in these circumstances, for the government to be taken seriously when they mouth the (apocryphal) Voltaire line about defending to the death speech with which they disagree. The repeal of 18C was clearly intended as an endorsement of Bolt, and not a statement of bare toleration. That position is now untenable, and it’s too late to switch back to Voltaire.

In summary, those on the right lamenting the continued existence of 18C ought to reflect on the fact that it’s their own overt or tacit endorsement of bigotry that’s brought this about. If they cleaned house, and dissociated themselves from the likes of Bolt, their claims to be supporting free speech might acquire a little more credibility.

fn1. I was going to add Sheikh Hillaly to this list. But based on this report, he seems to have joined the Team.

84 thoughts on “Team Australia

  1. Pr Q said:

    In summary, those on the right lamenting the continued existence of 18C ought to reflect on the fact that it’s their own overt or tacit endorsement of bigotry that’s brought this about. If they cleaned house, and dissociated themselves from the likes of Bolt, their claims to be supporting free speech might acquire a little more credibility.

    Right, because the essence of freedom is the permanent intra-party purge. A political “house…cleaned” of any opinion that does not break out into a “spontaneous demonstration” in support of the conventional liberal pieties on diversity. That way, with everyone speaking from the same politically corrected script, the public can have a real free, informed choice.

    Double-think:

    “The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

    You know it takes some chuzpah for Leftists to lecture social conservatives on freedom given that the Left is the main enemy of “actual, existing” free speech in the post-modem era of political discourse. Yes I know the knee-jerk civil libertarians are always banging on about draconian anti-terrorist laws and the surveillance state.

    Yet though “the dark night of fascism is always threatening to descend” on our land, it seems that only Right-wing “bigots” ever get into legal hot water, lose their jobs or experience a spine-chilling effect on their freedom. By contrast, terror-symps become such a cause-célèbre that Dreyfus would go green with envy.

    And who knows maybe one day Big Brother might get around to cracking the whip. But why bother when he has so many willing supplicants among the congenitally timid media-academia complex.

    BTW props to Mike Carlton for having the balls to speak his mind against one aspect of the huge anti-free speech constituency. I rarely, if ever, agreed with his opinions. But I think he did the right thing in criticising the Israeli lobby, even if he was a bit intemperate. I regret the fact that Fairfax “cleaned house” of Carlton, for the same reason Nick Cave mourned the passing of Johnny Cash: “there goes another one of these great voices. As far as I can see there aren’t the people around to replace [him].”

  2. @eigenscape
    Yes, well, lionising US ideas about liberty and rights may not be a sound basis for making laws. How do you feel about their quaint “open carry” movement?

  3. @Jack Strocchi

    ” it seems that only Right-wing “bigots” ever get into legal hot water, lose their jobs or experience a spine-chilling effect on their freedom”

    So true that – well except for the spine chilling bit – that’s you exaggerating and being all emotional again? But why is it so? Why do you think these men behave so badly? Nature or nurture?

    My explanation is that they had a dysfunctional upbringing and never learned to control their aggression, never learned how ugly they are when they force themselves on other, less aggressive people and never learned to care about the damage that this aggression does to the others.

  4. Julie Thomas :
    @Jack Strocchi
    ” it seems that only Right-wing “bigots” ever get into legal hot water, lose their jobs or experience a spine-chilling effect on their freedom”
    So true that – well except for the spine chilling bit – that’s you exaggerating and being all emotional again? But why is it so? Why do you think these men behave so badly? Nature or nurture?
    My explanation is that they had a dysfunctional upbringing and never learned to control their aggression, never learned how ugly they are when they force themselves on other, less aggressive people and never learned to care about the damage that this aggression does to the others.

    Or it could have a biological basis, of course. And if it did we would based on the symptoms classify it with…

  5. I find it amusing when right wing convervatives complain of being suppressed. The real facts are they are winning on all fronts. They own all the major newspapers, TV and media. They control most of the propaganda in our society. They have engineered the sell-off of government assets, the rollback of welfare, the reduction of the wage share of the economy and a massive increase in wealth of the super rich and their managerial lackeys.

    The interesting thing about right wing conservatives is that plenty is never enough for them. No matter how much money and power they have, they always must have more. Nobody else is to be permitted the slighest amount of power or money or the right to a different view.

    It is instructive to observe that when they complain of having their views suppressed what is actually happening is this. Their view has been proclaimed loud and long in the media they own and in all the bully pulpits they control. Then a small group manages to get a contrary view heard… a bit, somewhere. Suddenly, the right wing conservatives complain their views are being suppressed. So, to right wing conservatives “suppression” of their views is when their views do not dominate 100%. They claim that counter-argument is suppression yet they claim they claim they believe in free speech.

  6. it seems that only Right-wing “bigots” ever get into legal hot water, lose their jobs or experience a spine-chilling effect on their freedom

    Well that’s the claim anyway.

    It may well be that rightwing bigots greatly outnumber leftwing bigots — I can’t say I’ve met many leftwing bigots, or any really. Maybe there’s a no true Scotsman rule here, but I’d say being bigoted probably excludes you from being a leftist — though I suppose you might be bigoted in the sense of being obsessed about the rightness of a particular cause. Let’s allow for the sake of argument that one can find such a person.

    Certainly given that the governance of the world and the control of resources is almost exclusively in the hands of the right, it’s easy to see why almost all bigots are going to be of the rightwing variety. Bigots are as keen to be amongst friends as anyone, and if all the people they’d like to snuggle up with are rightwingers, that’s the kind of bigotry they are going to run with.

    Of course, that kind of bigotry is dreadfully embarrassing to people on the centre-right, and repulsive to people on the centre-left or the far left. The centre-right figures alienating the folk that rightwing bigotry alienates is simply poor business. That in a sense is what Abbott’s “Team Australia” nonsense was all about. They really want to do over marginalised people, but there really is nothing in it for them to be seen as moved by m@lice.

    Needless to say, whenever someone from the right scores an own goal like this, there is a long list of people lining up to distance themselves from it. Some American woman complained the other day when a McDonalds employee went with a swastika-in-butter design on her bun, and the employee got the sack.

    In Australia though there remains very wide scope for RW bigotry. The other day, the Daily Tele ran with a photoshopped image of the Boston marathon bombing in which they took an image of a victim fleeing from the horror and photoshopped Mike Carlton’s face onto it, along with an Arafat style scarf. Bigoted? Surely. Silenced by the state? No. Anyone disciplined? Laugh on. Was Miranda Devine ever even counselled for suggesting the Greens ought to be hung from lamp-posts for the Black Saturday deaths caused by our (falsely alleged) opposition to backburning? Not on your life.

    Bolt himself of course was forced to endure unpleasant things being said about him, which was a terrible imposition on his free speech, obviously, that no leftist would surely ever have to endure.

    But Ikonoclast is right. For the right, the mere appearance of dissent, the fact that they don’t have a monopoly of commentary on matters of policy or culture is what they regard as unfair. They want not merely free speech. They want uncontested speech. They want impunity, like the fellow who farts in the lift and expects everyone to grin or comment positively on the fragrance. The right to be a bigot is really a quest for the right to be affirmed by everyone.

    Of course the bigots don’t merely want the right to abuse people with impunity. They also want to be able to use the law to silence people. They want writs to prevent people arguing for boycotting their products. They regard defamation as a good system. They defend all manner of “national security” impositions not merely on free speech but association too. Up in Queensland, being a bikie in the opinion of police can get you arrested. Some tatoos are banned.

    Then there are laws denying you the right to misinform the market about dealings affecting shares. There are restrictions on insider trading and ambush marketing. All are good and compatible with freedom it seems. Patents and other IP are pillars of freedom.

    Clearly they are opposed to free speech for anyone who isn’t privileged by social arrangements. That’s what is consistent here.

  7. Fran:

    Maybe there’s a no true Scotsman rule here, but I’d say being bigoted probably excludes you from being a leftist …

    Yes, that is obviously a No True Scotsman foul. There is no reason why someone on the Right can’t say that if X is racist then X isn’t truly on the Right, or at least not on the Right on the issue of race.

    Of course the Left and Right are not real things to begin with but rather categories that have no universally agreed deinition and any attempt to plot everyone out on a line from left to right is not always going to be illuminating.

    Certainly some on the Right have eloquently argued that:

    1/ discourses on white privilege;

    2/ racialised affirmative action programs;

    3/ versions of history that blame white people and their governments for virtually all the wrongs in the world; and

    4/ the hagioghraphy of non-white ethno-religious groups

    5/ the idea that only white people, because they are powerful, are capable of true racism

    are all inherently racist.

    The praxis of far-Left politics in particular has always contained elements of racism, for example the state-orchestrated pogroms against the Chinese minority in Saigon at the end of the American War in Vietnam.

  8. The metaphorical use of the expressions ‘left’ and ‘right’ (and, by extension, ‘centre’) was introduced into political contexts as a way of referring to the positions, relative to each other, of contending political groupings. They are still useful for this purpose: as useful as they originally were, but no more so. They aren’t nearly as useful — maybe not useful at all — for referring to individual positions independent of contending political groupings but then, they weren’t supposed to be.

  9. @Jack Strocchi

    Is there a difference between “bigots” and bigots? If so, what is it? If not, why did you refer to “bigots” instead of just referring to bigots?

    Our prisons are full of people who have got into legal hot water, lost their jobs, and experienced a spine-chilling effect on their freedom. I don’t believe that they are there because they are right-wing bigots. Possibly they are all there because they are right-wing “bigots” — it’s impossible to say without some explanation of what you mean by “bigot”.

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