Two stars were born on last night’s episode of Q&A, as the panel debated repealing the Racial Discrimination Act, in particular, section 18C.
The Racial Discrimination Act has dominated Australian political discussion for a fair while now.
It was introduced by the Keating Government in 1995 and makes it unlawful to speak, or commit an act that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity.
It became colloquially known as the ‘Andrew Bolt law’ in 2011, after two of his articles were found to have breached the code.
And it’s reared its head again this year after a complaint was made against cartoonist Bill Leak for a series of
ignorant and racist controversial cartoons in The Australian.
So right-wing pollies have spent a depressing amount of time trying to repeal 18C, but when Liberal Senator Eric Abetz and editor of The Australian, Greg Sheridan came on Q&A to fly the flag, they were swiftly put in their place by two young Aussies.
First up, playwright Nakkiah Lui made the excellent point that 18C won’t ever directly impact the lives of ordinary Australians.
There were only 2318 complaints made last year related to breaches of The Racial Discrimination Act. So, as Lui explains,
“What we’re saying is, we’re looking at changing an entire law for less than 0.001% [of the population], so to say that this is an issue that affects the majority of Australians, to say that this is something that’s on the tips of the tongues of every single Australian … is not correct.
“What we have is a bunch of elite politicians abusing their power and wasting funds on their personal pursuits and their own agendas, that are not a public matter nor are they in the public interest. We’re paying a senator $195,000 a year on an issue that affects 0.01% of Australians.”
Then journo, Benjamin Law, weighed in – saying it doesn’t impact how ordinary Aussies access free speech, but rather, the whole discussion around 18C is:
“About powerful individuals and powerful organisations having an angry circle jerk about how horrible it is to be called out for being racist in a public forum.”
Then Law made the even better point that section 18D gives everybody a massive scope to say and do basically what you want anyway.
“You can insult people if it’s part of a discussion or a debate, you can offend people if it’s for genuine purpose in the public interest, and you are free to humiliate whoever you want if you’re making fair comment based on a genuine belief.”
So to try and say that the Act is stifling free is borderline madness.
Finally, some clarity and level-headedness to this pointless, futile debate.
— ABC Q&A (@QandA) November 21, 2016