Australia's Racial Vilification Bill
of an article which appeared in
(Highlights added for emphasis)
Racial vilification bill: the real agenda
The Keating Government's planned Racial Vilification Bill is one of the worst pieces of legislation ever put up in this country. Not only is it unnecessary for achieving its stated purpose - which is in the words of the Prime Minister, to "safeguard our record of tolerance" - it is also a direct threat to the rights of Australians to freely hold and express their own political opinions.
The bill has been widely condemned in the press. That is not necessarily a valid reason for opposing it - journalists are frequently as prejudiced in their own ways as any other interest group - but the arguments raised in relation to this particular piece of legislation are overwhelming.
The concept of incitement to racial violence or hatred - which the court wants to outlaw - is an extremely difficult one to enshrine in law. Unlike clear-cut anti-social acts like destruction or defacement of property, or creating a public nuisance in the streets (all of which are already illegal, and rightly so), the concept of incitement relies "as much on intention and attitudes as on spoken words". In other words, what is to be outlawed under this legislation is certain kinds of ideas. It is a thought control bill.
INTIMIDATION AND CONTROL
This is the real agenda of those who are promoting racial vilification legislation - to use the law to intimidate, and thus to control the expression of opinions with which they disagree. No credibility can be placed in the claim by supporters of this bill - because no evidence has been advanced for it - that there has been any recognisable increase in racial vilification of ethnic groups which might justify a new law. The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, Senator Bolkus has made an unsupported assertion that the offences to be outlawed by the bill " are of such magnitude that the criminal sanction is the most appropriate one". But remarkably he did not say what these offences were.
It is true that at the time of the Gulf War there was a brief spate of attacks on some Islamic communities in Australia. Nevertheless it is notable that it is not the Arab or Islamic communities which are the strongest proponents of the racial vilification bill. Where Australian Arab community representatives have publicly addressed the issue of Mr. Keating's bill, they have generally emphasised the importance of education , not criminal sanction, in overcoming racial prejudice. Mr A. Elkotrib, chairman of the Australian-Arabic Brotherhood Charitable association, went further: " We are concerned that the proposed legislation will limit the democratic right of freedom of speech that is accepted as the foundation of Australia's multicultural society."
According to former Labor Cabinet Minister Peter Walsh, impetus for the racial vilification bill comes from a "cell of social engineers in the Attorney-General's Department who, with a few other fringe groups, have been pushing for such legislation". He also says the bill is aimed at limiting what it is permissible to think, rather than what it is permissible to do. Criticising the Prime Minister for his support of the bill, he wrote:
" Both violence and incitement to violence, racial or otherwise, is already a crime - a fact acknowledged in Keating's May 28 speech by reference to long-term jail sentences handed down in Perth. He went on, however, seemingly to deplore the fact that these people were prosecuted only for what they did, not for what they believed."
A further important argument advanced by Peter Walsh was that whatever little racial conflict or violence does exist in contemporary Australia, most of it is "between ethnic groups, rather than immigrant groups and the mainstream population, against which the social engineers are aiming this legislation." The conflict over Macedonia is a prime example of this point.
What's more, responsibility for some of this conflict can fairly be sheeted home to the very Government which is promoting racial vilification legislation. This was pointed out by Monash University political science lecturer Max Teichmann, in a further attack on the bill:
"The only real threat of racial violence here was created by the Federal Government when it played off the Greeks and the Macedonians and then welshed on them", he said. "The Immigration Minister, Senator Nick Bolkus, was a key factor in that fiasco."
"The main occasion for racist utterances here was when 50,000 Greeks charged down Bourke Street looking for Bolkus, with important sanctions in mind, only pausing occasionally to slag the Macedonians"
"Luckily, they ran into our Jeff [Victorian Premier, Mr. Kennett], who promised them sunshine right through Winter and a mini-GP in every back yard. otherwise the souvlaki could have hit the fan."
Max Teichmann said it was " either obtuse or insulting" to Australians to suggest that events that took place in Germany after 1930, and in parts of Europe since, could happen here. "To use the new lingo of Mark Liebler, it is on the edge of a racial slur"
It is significant that Mr. Teichmann chose to mention Mr. Liebler in this context because it is Mr. Liebler and other prominent representatives of the Australian Jewish community who have been among the most important backers of the racial vilification bill. Nor is it co-incidental that when Mr. Keating chose recently to re-ignite debate on the bill, he did so at a conference of the Zionist Federation of Australia. Remarkably, the Liberals' Deputy Leader Peter Costello who was also in attendance at the conference refrained from distancing his party from Mr. Keating's bill. Thus it appears to have bipartisan support.
Those who have cause to publicly disagree with these Jewish representatives - as this newspaper did in criticising certain aspects of the push for war crimes legislation a few years ago - have in the past found themselves unjustly castigated as "anti-Semitic". If those who are willing to toss around such labels without just cause are to be allowed to enshrine their own political agendas in Australian law, we are all in trouble.
©-free 2009 Adelaide Institute