Tim Wilson, George Brandis and Section 18c – systemic racism in Australia stoops to a new low

Wilson’s right wing cop-out interpretation of freedom of speech will encourage not reduce racial vilification of ethnic minorities
Wilson’s right wing cop-out interpretation of freedom of speech will encourage not reduce racial vilification of ethnic minorities

Usually the end of the year is a season of festivity not right wing political reforms upholding systemic racism. The Australian attorney general, George Brandis, has appointed Tim Wilson as the country’s ‘Freedom’ Human Rights Commissioner. As one of many recent politicking schemes, the other being funding cuts to legal aid services, the Abbott government have made it clear that they are cementing the ‘right’ kind of thinking into Australian politics. Before taking on his new role (with an annual salary of $325,000), Wilson was the director of the Institute of Public Affairs – in which he was not shy to condemn the Australian Human Rights Commission with all the tenaciousness of a right wing commentator. The irony that Wilson has been appointed to the AHRC in which for years he’s called for its annulment is unmistakably clear, and smells to the high heavens of The Liberal Party’s agenda.

When ‘freedom of speech’ is touted as the universal trump card, that extinguishes even anti-discriminatory laws, you know that something is seriously wrong with the political philosophy of the powers that be. Some readers may think I’m being anti-democratic and against equality by even daring to tinker on the idea that ‘freedom of speech’ should have limits. Be assured that freedom is personally important to me but I whole heartedly believe that without guidelines, ‘freedom’ can look more like a license for bigotry and philosophical chaos. If someone or an institution can racial vilify someone or an ethnic group (be it in person, through social media, the press, or systemic shuffling of politics towards a biased account) and there is no form of correction than certainly the societal machine is broken. Both Wilson and Brandis (though Tim Wilson is a bit richer about his stance) would see the total repeal of Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act – legislation that protects people from being abused on the basis of their race. Wilson’s right wing cop-out interpretation of freedom of speech will encourage not reduce racial vilification of ethnic minorities, especially those of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Island descent. Indeed the very legislation that Brandis and Wilson would repeal is the very statute that was used to rule against Andrew Bolt’s racist belittling of ‘light skinned’ ATSI people not being ‘real members’ of the ‘black race.’ The Herald Sun contributor described people of mixed indigenous and non-indigenous blood as “the white face of a new black race – the political Aborigine”.  Evidently, the stereotyping of ‘indigeneity’ as an ethnic license for being a social welfare bludger is nothing new from the ignorant privilege of right wing commentators. If Brandis is in the opinion that Section 18c should be annulled on the basis that racist comments come under the brood of ‘freedom of speech’ than would it be fair to say that the attorney general had no problems with the racist articles published by Bolt? Would it also be fair to say that Wilson’s appointment by Brandis renders the AHRC not only void of political independence but also doomed to be a vehicle of social irrelevance as Australia’s racist weed continues to grow?

Sometimes freedom can be just as oppressive as totalitarian politics. Wilson and Brandis obviously see themselves as defenders of individual freedom and liberty, the problem though is that their opinion of Section 18c further entrenches social norms under the influence of systemic values. Grouped with economic neo-liberalism and a capitalist ethos; the dominant cultural norms are highly individualistic – and although individual rights are trumpeted, the truth of the matter is that the people at the top of the socio-political scale get to indoctrinate ‘their’ individual rules and norms as society’s rule of thumb. The truth is that we are not all equal and racial inequity still parallels socio-economic inequity. The equality and freedom rhetoric of the Liberal Party, Abbott, Brandis and Wilson is a ploy that reeks of social engineering, keeping those who are oppressed the most in their rightful place. It is interesting that the freedom of speech as a champion against group rights has in a very sure sense affirmed the rights of a group – the dominant social players who determine who is ‘in’ and who is ‘out’ in Western society. A majority of ethnic minority groups do have cultural beliefs that run counter to mainstream individualism, but that doesn’t make them oppressive and restrictive and it sure doesn’t make people of ethnic minority groups against freedom of speech. The recent machinations of the Abbott government are cruelly conservative to those that need empowerment the most, and Wilson’s appointment as the ‘Freedom Commissioner’ is a slap in the face to an organization that is meant to protect people from harm not allow discrimination to exacerbate.

Undoubtedly if Section 18c is repealed, that but all cements the Abbott government’s mission of creating racially second class citizens in the 21st century – with some 100,000 ATSI already living in third world conditions, the annulment of anti-discriminatory laws will certainly confirm the prognosis.


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