TONY Abbott promised to repeal the “racial hatred” section (18c) of the Racial Discrimination Act “in its current form”. George Brandis promised to repeal those provisions that enabled Andrew Bolt “to be successfully pursued through the courts for expressing an opinion on a matter of public policy’’, a commitment he reaffirmed on ABC1’s Q&A on Monday night.
These statements are not inconsistent and the electorate awaits final words before passing judgment on any breach of an election promise.
Meanwhile, Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane fears the abolition of 18c. He says that abolition “can licence racial hatred (and) may unleash a darker, even violent, side of our humanity, which revels in the humiliation of the vulnerable’’.
Was Australia a darker place before the insertion of 18c in 1995? I do not think so.
Soutphommasane puzzles that ‘’public outrage’’ over 18c is absent for parallel legislation: offensive language provisions of criminal legislation and the laws of defamation. The reasons are straightforward. Parallel laws do the job, and 18c oversteps the mark.
Had Pat Eatock and her “light-skinned’’ Aboriginal co-complainants sued Bolt for defamation they might have won. Then again, his accusation, that she and others used their Aboriginal heritage to obtain benefits, might have been assessed on the merits and regarded as fair comment. By using the race-hate provisions, fair comment as a defence was bypassed and Bolt foundered on the rock of hurt feelings.
Late last month two young women allegedly assaulted and racially abused an elderly blind Aboriginal man on the Gold Coast. The race-hate provisions may not capture them, but the ordinary laws of offence should.
A video, posted on YouTube but now withdrawn, showed two intoxicated girls, one allegedly saying after boarding a bus, “We are in Abo land.”
They have been charged with various offences sufficient to address the demeaning of the man.
Soutphommasane says that we should “inoculate ourselves against bigotry and discrimination”. Making an offence of hurting someone’s feelings does not inoculate. There are far more powerful ways: every school and church in Australia (except for those ASIO observes) pumps out the message of tolerance.
These habits and ordinary laws suffice to inoculate. It appears that Soutphommasane needs more. Last financial year, the commission received 192 complaints concerning racial hatred. Only five ended up in court. I can find no record of these, so presumably they were settled. I can see your problem, Tim. Not enough racial hatred to keep you employed.
Australia is not India, where a caste system survives, or Sri Lanka, where racial divisions caused civil war, or a Taliban Afghanistan, or a Zimbabwe where kicking out the whiteman is a national pastime. Australia is where intermarriage between groups of differing ethnic and racial origins is very high. We love each other, and where we do not, we ignore each other, but we rarely spout racial hatred.
The rate of intermarriage for Aborigines in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne is more than 80 per cent. Aborigines constitute 1 per cent of the population of these places: a tiny minority. In a sea of whites, Aborigines have high intermarriage rates.
The migrant experience has been very positive. European migrants integrate after the second and at least by the third generation.
Neither is religion a barrier to intermarriage. Catholics and Protestants now marry.
Marrying out is low for all the first-generation non-Christian religious groups, including Muslims, Jews and Hindus. Intermarriage is discouraged in almost all these faiths. But intermarriage by religion increases with each successive generation.
Marrying out among Jewish men and women has reached 30 per cent. A 30 per cent level of marrying out among third-generation Jews is low given upward mobility and secularisation in Australia, which normally promotes intermarriage.
The key here is that the Australian Jewish community has been one of the most educationally and occupationally mobile. At the same time, Jewish social institutions have countered the impact of upward mobility on ethnic attachment.
The Jewish case shows that intermarriage as a means of social integration creates the challenge of the dissolution of ethnic and religious attachments.
The struggle to hold subsequent generations among identifiable groups is ongoing. Jews have maintained identity and made a huge contribution to Australia and integrate in so many ways in addition to marrying out. Therein lies the genius.
The great achievements of the tolerant society were well and truly won before Soutphommasane’s commission came along. Future threats to it will be defeated by millions of Australians who intermarry, shun bad behaviour, such as that displayed by stupid girls on the local bus, or by encouraging their young to look outward.