Senate blocks changes to section 18C of Racial Discrimination Act

Contributed by Joe Montero

The numbers were there in the Senate last night, to throw out the government’s proposed to Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

By doing this, the Senators have at least brought some time. But it would be extremely gullible to believe that it is all over. This is about much more than the Racial Discrimination Act. The change to the Act is part of the push by a gang of political thugs, working to raise the landscape of the politics of hate.

On this occasion, government had sought to replace the words “offend, insult or humiliate,” with the term “harass”. This might seem like just a little change. But the vagueness of the term, would have been enough to make the act virtually unenforceable. This was an attempted change through the back door, because the strength of community opposition was such that an up front assault was not possible.

The influential and pro-big business think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA), has gone on the immediate offensive and called on the government to take the changes to the Act to the next federal election. This is code for the vigorous public campaign to allow racial discrimination, will be taken up a notch. The Senate vote is a setback, but not a defeat.

If another Andrew Bolt, QUT, Bill Leak or Ashfield Uniting church-type case occurs that will be on the heads of Labor, Greens, Xenophon and Jacquie Lambie who voted today against removing restrictions on freedom of speech,” said Simon Breheny, director of policy at the IPA.

He added that “Senators who voted against this bill have failed a test of their commitment to basic human liberty”.

These words reveal that the angle of attack will continue to be s ham campaign for free speech. It is a sham, because pastes over the reality that anti-discrimination laws give a measure of protection to those who are voiceless, because they do not hold wealth and power.

This cannot be said for the new self-styled champions of free speech. This is a campaign led by Murdoch’s News Corporation, the IPA and other representatives of big business. They have the wealth and power. They have the platforms through which to express their views and have pay a well paid cabal of scribes, to peddle the message.  Their “free speech” is not being curtailed.

What they are really about, is to silence all opinion but their own. Not being able to defend their collective sectional view of the world and the demands for a higher order of neoliberal economic policy and a new wave of austerity and government cuts; their politics of hate to sow division in the community and  social regimentation along corporate lines, they seek to counter criticism through vilification and the lynch mob.

The right to the free speech of the majority is what is ultimately at stake. The current government is a player in this push and at present is the focal point for resistance. At the same time, we need to face those who stand behind the politicians.

As Australians, we have a collective responsibility to ensure that the protection of the vulnerable is not only maintained at the present level, but improved. If this must involve stopping privileged sectional interests, so be it.

 

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