Tag: Malcolm Turnbull

For we are young and free speech is illegal?

For we are young and free speech is illegal?

Free speech is being choked out of us by restrictive laws! You can’t say anything anymore! Torch the Racial Discrimination Sections 18c and 18d!

While it may be true that the social consequences of ‘you can’t say that!’ are getting trickier to navigate, the legal restrictions on ‘free speech’ in the Racial Discrimination Act (1975) are actually quite straight forward.

Senator Cory Bernardi is calling on Australians to ‘defend free speech’ with adjustments to RDA section 18c by removing the words ‘insult’ and ‘offend’ from the following:

Offensive behaviour because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin

             (1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

                     (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

                     (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.

The practical effect of such a semantic switch would be akin to giving your toddler a brick to smash his toe with, rather than a mallet.

Bernardi claims that the law ‘should not concern itself with feelings’, and perhaps he has a point there–it’s tough enough to apply law to cold hard facts, why should someone’s feelings be considered also?

First of all, because the Racial Discrimination Act is designed to build a social structure that includes and welcomes everyone, regardless of race or ethnicity. Where groups are publicly made to feel less than others in community spaces, that destroys any sense of inclusion they may have had. Feelings are at the very core of this law.

Secondly, Bernardi has only picked ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the list of harms. ‘Humiliation’ is also a feeling, as is ‘intimidation’. To exclude all feelings from the practice of this law would take away any meaning. The only means by which racial vilification could be proved is by non-emotions based evidence: physical assault, statistics, and other symptoms that appear long after insults have bred into negative attitudes.

The truth is, removing two words does very little to change the way this law would work. Someone who is ‘insulted’ may no longer be able to claim this in court, but ‘insulted’ persons often feel ‘humiliated’, the practical applications of the law would not change at all.

Changing this law is an exercise in futile grandstanding, a politician who seeks to whip up support by claiming the political left is choking Australia’s right to free speech. Which would be all well and good, if he had any plan to do something substantial about it.

Note that this is also included:

Note:          Subsection (1) makes certain acts unlawful. Section 46P of the Australian Human Rights Commission Act 1986 allows people to make complaints to the Australian Human Rights Commission about unlawful acts. However, an unlawful act is not necessarily a criminal offence. Section 26 says that this Act does not make it an offence to do an act that is unlawful because of this Part, unless Part IV expressly says that the act is an offence.

These acts are unlawful but they are not considered criminal offenses. Charges are not brought by the state against the person, they are civil complaints that are handled by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

This is not the same as being prosecuted in criminal court.

So let’s have a good look at the RDA sections in question, 18c and 18d, and see just how restricted our free speech really is!

Section 18c (a) makes it pretty clear that it is unlawful to do anything (other than in private) that could upset someone if the reason for doing it rests on their being of a certain race/ethnicity/religion/etc.

That seems fair to me. I could agree with repealing this law if it meant that Australians were going to act on common sense and what their mothers taught them. It’s unfortunate that we need laws to teach us not to be dicks to each other. Be nice to each other, unless you’re in a private space.

(2)  For the purposes of subsection (1), an act is taken not to be done in private if it:

                     (a)  causes words, sounds, images or writing to be communicated to the public; or

                     (b)  is done in a public place; or

                     (c)  is done in the sight or hearing of people who are in a public place.

“public place ” includes any place to which the public have access as of right or by invitation, whether express or implied and whether or not a charge is made for admission to the place.

A public place can be considered as anywhere that you might reasonably have an ‘audience’, whether that’s via public media, social networks, or community spaces. Places where you are likely to be heard or seen by the persons you are speaking against, and where your actions can directly affect them.

This is especially important for journalists, politicians, and other prominent personalities who may have their words taken as fact.

The law is not telling you that you can’t have an opinion. The law isn’t telling you that you can’t voice your opinion to your mates. It clearly states that negative acts that are racially motivated are not accepted in community spaces and media.

While we’re on the subject of voicing opinions, there are some exceptions to 18c:

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;

Artistic work is ‘free speech’ at its best. Art is how we express the state of the social structure, art is how our society will be seen by generations after us. We understand history by Shakespeare, Picasso and Mozart–Australians of the future will experience our society in a similar way.

Art shows us a reflection of what is, and inspires us to change. That is why it’s more acceptable to enact discrimination via artistic means. Art is supposed to challenge us and make us feel, to be confronting.

(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;

If what you are saying is proven fact, you cannot be sued. Even if the fact is hurtful or humiliating, it is not unfair nor unjust to speak it in a public setting. This passage also provides immunity for discriminatory practices used in research on how and why people discriminate, and debates on society and discrimination.

This allows us to openly discuss what discrimination is, and what discriminating attitudes we might feel ourselves as we open our minds to understanding the subjects of those attitudes. Discrimination is a social issue, and not one we should run from.

If you are expressing a view that is unacceptable under 18c, but is for the purposes of learning or is proven fact, you are protected by 18d.

(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.

For those of you who were wondering where your right to an opinion went, here it is.

If you honestly, truly, believe in what you’re saying, you might be ignorant but you cannot be sued. This is why politicians like Pauline Hanson, who openly expresses her reservations about multicultural aspects of Australia, are not sued under 18c. She has an opinion that she wholly believes, has built a platform upon it, and though she offends and insults a lot of people over public media–she can’t be sued on ignorance alone.

The first part of (c) allows news outlets to report what occurred, without fear of litigation. If an attack occurred that was carried out by persons of a single race, so long as the account of the event is true and void of opinion-based speculation (unless written in an article stated as opinion) there are no grounds for litigation.

In summary:

Truth, common sense, and respect for others are the core values at the heart of The Racial Discrimination Act (1975) Sections 18c and 18d. The law and these amendments in no way infringe on anyone’s right to speak the truth, only restricting the unfounded fear-mongering hate rhetoric that injures others and damages Australia’s chances at an inclusive society.

If Bernardi wants to preserve ‘free speech’, he needs to do more than try and remove a few words. He needs to help Australia understand what free speech is, and what is appropriate according to the existing law. His changes won’t have any functional effect, just another distraction in Canberra.

Who really invested in jobs and growth? An economic comparison of Australian Prime Ministers.


If you’re looking to make an informed vote based on economic strength this Saturday, here are some numbers worth looking at. The Australia Institute has released a paper analysing the economic performance of Australian governments from Menzies onward.

Independent and non-partisan research organisation The Australia Institute released a new research paper, ‘Jobs and growth… and a few hard numbers‘, illustrating the economic performance of Australian prime ministers across a broad range of economic indicators.
The Coalition’s constant reminder of Labor’s ability to take a government budget in clear surplus and turn it into deficit and debt (as Rudd did following Howard*) seems to have resonated with the Australian public. Polls show the Coalition leads public trust in economic matters, but how much of that is influenced by political spin, and who do the numbers support for ‘best economic management’?

Here are some highlights of the report.

* Note that while the Howard government passed a surplus to Rudd (that he famously destroyed and put the government into debt), the debt was accumulated in the roll out of Rudd’s stimulus packages during the global financial crisis.  And what is a budget surplus if not unallocated funds to cushion a country in unexpected economic crisis? That is precisely what Rudd did, and may have been the best economic management the country has seen—ever.
On innovation investment growth:
The investment of the Abbott/Turnbull governments for innovation is less than that of the Rudd and Gillard governments. The Coalition’s claim that they are the masterminds behind a more innovative Australia is branding at best. By dollars invested, the ALP was leading this as far back as Rudd.
On business investment growth:
Once again, the LNP under Abbott/Turnbull fails to put its money where its mouth is. For a party that claims to support ‘jobs and growth’ by investing in business, it’s a little worrying to see the lowest business investment numbers since the Whitlam government. Interestingly, the Gillard government comes out on top here, followed by Howard and his lauded surplus.

On GDP per capita growth:
Only the Rudd government performed worse than the Abbott/Turnbull duo in this category. Remembering that both governments have been victims of difficult economic times, you might be ready to shrug it off. The Gillard government’s result matches Abbott/Turnbull at 1.1% a year each—so where exactly does this idea that the ALP under Gillard was worse at economic management come from?

It’s nothing more than warping the interpretation of statistics to claim that Rudd ‘failed in economic management’ because the numbers reflect the initial hit of the GFC, and his spend-more response.

On jobs and wages growth:
Of particular interest to those of you who like to eat, and who need the money to invest in food to indulge in the luxury of eating: wages growth has suffered under the Abbott/Turnbull government.

Falling from 1.2% per year under Gillard to -0.6 per year under the Coalition. Personal income growth fell from 0.7% to 0.3% per year. This doesn’t look much like ‘jobs and growth’. This looks more like ‘underpaid and starving’.

Remember that in this time, while wages are falling, living expenses are still inflating. The average postage stamp costs $1 and public transport fares increase every January 1st. Wages should be growing to support those costs, not shrinking.

On household debt growth:
This is where it gets scary. This is where we see the sort of ‘growth’ Abbott/Turnbull have really shared with the Australian public.

The Gillard government saw the fall of household debt growth from 1.5% pts per year to 0.9% pts per year. Rudd had already drastically reduced that number from Howard’s 4.3% pts per year. In the short time of the Coalition’s rule, Gillard’s 0.9% has become 5.5% pts per year.
The Coalition, though allegedly committed to reducing government debts, seems to be doing so at the cost of households.
Record low wages and income growth coupled with record increase in household debt. Not really something you’d want to boast about. 

On allegedly reducing government debt:
So there’s some numerical support here. Some. Under Rudd, government debt growth hit a record 3.3% pts per year. As noted at the top of the article, a large chunk of that growth was in response to the global financial crisis, and a government that was determined to out-spend economic disaster.
It was Gillard who saw this come down to 2.3% pts per year, and Abbott/Turnbull have so far only succeeded in reducing this to 2.2% pts per year. Achievement, or the result of a trend started before they took power? Either way, to claim that the Coalition is better at managing finances than the ALP is like trying to claim that five twenty cent coins is better than a dollar coin.

On the GDP and economic growth:
If you look at the numbers as they’re typically presented (by average GDP growth per year), you’d be fooled into thinking that Rudd was a terrible economic manager. Abbott/Turnbull are too willing to boast their 2.60% growth against Rudd’s 2.17%, though they notably forget that Gillard tops the three recent governments with a growth of 2.75%. Essentially, GDP growth has stalled since the Coalition came into power, and that is not what they would have us believe.

To look at the numbers a different way, and the way they perhaps should be measured, is to compare those growth rates against the rest of the world–against the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development or OECD. This gives a picture of how each government performed against other countries during the same economic period.

That is, Rudd’s performance against other governments faced with the GFC, Howard’s performance in relatively stable times, etc. To compare governments directly with each other is somewhat unfair, as they each faced different situations in global economics.

This data, displayed by the percentage above the average GDP percentage growth across the OECD tells a vastly different story than a comparison of Australian governments to each other ever will.

Abbott/Turnbull sits just 0.62% above the average OECD GDP, behind Howard (honoured alleged economic mastermind) and his 0.85% above. Gillard shows in at 1.04% above (yes, performing better globally in her time in office than Abbott/Turnbull has in theirs), but is eclipsed by Rudd who saw 2.89% above the falling OECD GDP. Australia grew stronger economically while the world struggled not to grind to a halt.

Part of that? The Labor government under Rudd utilising the budget surplus (and then some) to keep the economy moving. The big ‘economic mis-management’ that Abbott/Turnbull love to trot out under the terms ‘government over-spending’ and ‘increased debt’. Did Rudd spend too much? Possibly. We will never really know what the minimum spend would have been to keep Australia rolling during the crisis.

What we do know, is that we saw growth in that period. The measures saw results.


Turnbull would have you believe that Australia is headed toward a stronger economy with more ‘jobs and growth’.
However, the numbers on prior performance indicate that the only ‘jobs’ we will see are going to be underpaid, and ‘growth’ is likely to be in household debt.
To claim that Turnbull and the Coalition are more equipped to handle Australia’s economy than the ALP is laughable at best, and certainly not supported by the data in this report.