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Issue #1622      December 11, 2013

Dismay at RDA move

Federal Attorney-General George Brandis is proposing to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA), which makes it unlawful to behave in a manner that is likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person on the basis of their race.

Activist Pat Eatock.

It was under that section of the RDA that nine fair-skinned Aboriginal people, led by activist Pat Eatock, successfully brought court action against Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt. “The government wants to ensure that laws which are designed to prohibit racial vilification are not used as a vehicle to attack legitimate freedoms of speech,” Senator Brandis told the Koori Mail in a statement.

“The two values – protecting people against racial vilification and defending freedoms of speech – are not inconsistent.” Ms Eatock, who was one of the people attacked by Mr Bolt in his column for being a “professional Aborigine” after a lifetime of fighting for rights and equality, said she was dismayed the government was planning to water down protection against racial vilification.

“The whole issue about Bolt was not about freedom of speech, it was about professionalism, journalism and ethics,” she said. “It was simply a matter of Mr Bolt telling lies, blatant invention to suit his own personal view of the world that he could not verify any other way, so he claimed freedom of speech – it’s utter garbage.”

Senator Brandis did not respond to questions from the Koori Mail asking if he had sought input from the Race Discrimination Commissioner or the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples.

However, Senator Brandis told Sky News he believed Section 18C “puts the balance too far against freedoms of expression” and said it was “ridiculous” that Mr Bolt had lost the court case about his columns.

But Ms Eatock countered that the law gave people protection if they could not afford to mount a defamation suit, because lawyers were able to take RDA cases on a contingency basis, where they were paid only if they won.

“He told the most revolting lies about my life and experience, and about all of the 17 people he attacked in his articles, including Mick Dodson, the Australian of the Year, a very well-known Aboriginal person,” she said.

“At that time, Mr Bolt was supposed to have seven million readers every week, widely published, so I was very much David to his Goliath, totally without power.

“The whole point is the existing laws protect people from this type of attack.

“In order to start a defamation action you have to have about $30,000 spare cash to put down to start the case. People like myself don’t have the money to be able to do that, no power to take him to court, but by filing a case under the RDA we had some protection.

“The other aspect of defamation is that it doesn’t care if someone’s words are accurate or invented, it only looks at whether it could cause you to lose income, or reflect on your potential to earn a living.

“As an aged pensioner, I have no potential to lose income, so no way to win a defamation action.”

National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chairs Les Malezer and Kirstie Parker said the RDA should not be seen as a piece of legislation to be amended at whim.

“Congress is concerned such changes to the anti-racism laws will engender upheaval and divisive commentaries within the Parliament and civil society, and provoke international concern regarding the commitment by Australia to human rights standards,” they said in a statement.

“This country must not justify racial vilification as a freedom.

“Racial intolerance and the spread of racial derisions ultimately form a basis for acts of racism. Racist sentiments cannot be separated from or dissociated from racist behaviours.

“Racial profiling and dog-whistling commentaries threaten the humanity and dignity of the First Peoples of Australia.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Defend the national broadcaster

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