Bill Shorten’s 18C zinger is “What exactly does the Prime Minister want people to be able to say that they cannot say now?”
Not exactly a zinger, because a review of the 18C cases reveals mostly a world of trivial sleights and domestic disputes, with the occasional newspaper comment thrown in for good measure.
There is no hint of the tsunami of racism which defenders of 18C allege is waiting to hit our public places should the section be amended or repealed.
These are disputes that should never be allowed to result in litigation, gumming up the courts and diverting some of the best legal minds from much more significant issues.
Here are some things we know you can’t say under S18C because a court has made that determination.
You can’t suggest some fairer-skinned Aborigines game the system, to the disadvantage of other indigenes (Bolt). You aren’t allowed to say "Aboriginal people in their native state are the most primitive people on earth." (Lightfoot)
Neither can a councillor refer to a group of vagrants and suggest they “should be shot” if they happen to be Aboriginal. (Fardig) If you are a state government you can’t issue a direction to your department that the Macedonian language be referred to as the Macedonian (Slavonic) language. (Australian Macedonian Human Rights Committee)
Newspapers need to be careful as this part of a larger comment on a news site “...criminal trash like these young boys” was held to in breach because it referred to a number of young boys who were Aboriginal, even though the commenter didn’t mention race as a reason for saying this. (Clarke)
But it is OK to call someone a “Pom” (Bryant)
And the penalties can be quite high. Southern Cross Broadcasting had to pay $50,000 because Howard Sattler didn’t beep out denigration by a couple of his panellists of Waugyl, an Aboriginal dreamtime creature. (Wanjurri V Southern Cross)
If these are the incidents that get litigated, one would assume that the rest of the complaints are pretty benign.
The truth is that the defence of 18C is based on the myth that Australia is a racist society, and that without legislation like 18C we would drown in racism.
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