Monday, November 07, 2016
Australia's Human Rights Commission intolerant of debate
Nothing could be a more powerful example of the need to reform Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act than the commission's extraordinary overreaction to a cartoon by Bill Leak.
The fact the Human Rights Commission is so intent on pursuing a cartoonist for The Australian can only underscore how ludicrous the use of this law has become.
It is now too easily distorted into a symbol of intolerance rather than tolerance, of quelling dissent or differences of opinion with a particular view of the world, of punishing and vilifying those who question claims of victimhood.
The skill of cartoonists, the best cartoonists, lies in provoking their audience with their work. They mean to disturb comfortable assumptions, to reveal hypocrisy, to cause people to think again with a few clever lines of drawings and words.
In this case, a cartoon showing an Aboriginal police officer and a beer-carrying Aboriginal father who couldn't remember his kid's name may have been deeply offensive, especially to the many caring Aboriginal parents. But it also cut to the heart of a highly sensitive issue in Australian society agitated about the high incarceration rates as well as the at times shocking treatment of Aboriginal kids.
Just why are so many Aboriginal kids caught up in the juvenile justice system? Why are so many roaming the streets? There are obviously many complex reasons for this societal failure, including a history of racism in Australia.
But certainly one reason is because of the high levels of alcoholism and abuse leading to major parental neglect in so many Aboriginal communities. Simply ignoring this on the grounds that to dwell on this ugly truth is somehow racist doesn't make the problem go away.
Yet it was Leak's cartoon - rather than the painful reality of community dysfunction – that instantly created outrage. Apparently nowhere more so than at the Human Rights Commission. After a complaint from members of the public, encouraged by one of the commissioners, Triggs wants Leak to produce evidence he was not being racist in his cartoon.
That's because the current version of 18C makes illegal behaviour that is "reasonably likely, in all circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" due to race, colour, national or ethnic origin on the other person.