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Issue #1632      March 26, 2014


“Free speech” for whom

Those promoting the push to water down the Racial Discrimination Act – the corporate mass media – are the ones who have the means to put out their poisonous slurs far and wide. It is a push for division and is targeted at multiculturalism. It will be felt in particular by Indigenous Australians, with a history of being the brunt of discrimination, dispossession and attempted genocide.

The scrapping of section 18c of the Act that refers to the use of offensive language is a foot in the door to remove restraints on those in positions of power and influence to demonise sections of society (see the treatment and demonisation of asylum seekers).

As the ruling class enters a new phase in the system’s inherent crisis the means are being put in place to quell growing public opposition and to gag public speech itself: to drown out the voice of the people.

This is the class nature of “free speech”.

The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA) was introduced by the Labor Whitlam government. The power of the national Parliament to pass the laws over-riding the states and territories arose under the “external affairs” power in the Australian Constitution. This in turn arose from the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination to which Australia is a signatory.

It was law whose time had not only come but was long overdue. Now, as with other international conventions that Australia has and is violating, the Abbott government is intent on paring back the RDA.

Attorney-General George Brandis said the government “would repeal (from the RDA) that language which constitutes an unreasonable limitation on freedom of speech”. The springboard is known as the “Andrew Bolt provision” named after the muck-raking, sensationalist Murdoch columnist who also has his own prime-time Sunday morning talk show. The provision came about because Bolt claimed that some people with light coloured skin only claimed to be Aboriginal so they could receive certain welfare payments.

And there it is: someone in a position of power in media publicly casts a slur. Bolt is a willing cipher, a means to an end. And what end is it? Where is it expected to lead?

To see an example look to Hungary where, in the name of free speech, last November in Budapest a statue was erected of Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944. Horthy was a fascist who collaborated with Nazi Germany and who through anti-Jewish laws promoted by mass propaganda, sent more than half a million Jews to the death camps. At the same time in the north-east Hungarian city of Miskolc, a group of fascists participated in a book-burning. The police standing by did nothing.

Extreme right forces are now on the rise around the world, nowhere more clearly at the moment than in Ukraine. Australia is not an exception, as it is not immune to the global crisis currently racking capitalism. Sections of the ruling class are increasingly looking to and supporting these forces as a means to suppress opposition to ruthless austerity programs being imposed upon the population.

As the Guardian stated on its front page last week, this is the “time for fightback”. The article went on to call for action, including for the defence of the right to join a trade union as a basic human right.

These are the fundamental rights now under threat, and the attack on the RDA is part of this widening offensive. Last week’s Australia-wide March in March protests against the Abbott agenda must mark the beginning of growing opposition by the working people and their allies.

Next article – Celebrate 70 years of struggle

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