Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

How soft on people's feelings should the law become?

By John de Meyrick - posted Monday, 4 September 2017

The number of narks and religious dissidents in the community would, for example, then have statutory grounds to complain that their feelings were being hurt by exposure in shopping centres and other public places to Santa Claus, carol singing, nativity scenes, decorated trees, coloured lights and other expressions of the Christmas Season.

(Anti-Christmas activists have already forced concessions in some communities whilst government policy decisions or lack thereof – such as the recent on/off ban on carols being sung in Victorian public schools – are already a short-cut means of applying pressure politics.)

Also, another example would be if you called someone a “silly old fool” or depicted old people by way of a cartoon or joke (and there is any number of them now about the frailties of old age).


Yet another example relating to a current issue would be if people, Aboriginal or otherwise, complained that they were offended by the sight of statues in public places of people whose contribution to the nation they disputed and despised.

Think too of the skilful pussy-footing and use of language one would need when criticising someone’s political opinion, especially that of a politician.

Based on s.18C criteria, anyone who claimed their feelings had been hurt by such examples could readily file a complaint or class action seeking compensation and costs. It would open up a vast new area of litigation (beyond what has already occurred) and silence all but the incautious fools among us.

Statutory defences to such claims (such as those provided by section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act) would not provide protection for the inoffensive, unstudied and naïve person, particularly as “to offend, insult, humiliate”, in terms of 18C, virtually constitutes an absolute breach.

So how did it come to this? How much softer in mollifying people’s hurt feelings should the law become?  

Soft politicians make soft laws. But as statutory laws are made by politicians and politicians are supposed to represent the will of the people, should it be assumed that where the law stands and where it is heading in regard to such matters must simply be reflecting the majority will of mainstream Australia?


Well, query first: Is there a mainstream artery of public opinion in Australia today, or only a collection of sub-stream disparate opinions and causes? In any case, where do we now locate the nation’s pulse?

You see, the difficulty we now face is we live in an age of ideological self-awareness. A world of identity politics and human rights activism where those among us with any common characteristic or condition, or particular cause or opinion, can coalesce into active pressure groups each demanding recognition of its perceived ‘cotton wool’ rights.

When soft and ‘sooky’ laws are made to appease minority interests one person’s rights then become a challenge to the pre-established rights of another. Tensions arise. Community resentment sets in. Tolerance, the ‘glue’ which binds us together as a nation (which the Prime Minister keeps referring to) begins to lose its grip. The question is: when you can’t please everybody whose tolerance should have to concede? 

  1. Pages:
  2. 1
  3. Page 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. All

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

7 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

John de Meyrick is a barrister (ret’d), lecturer and writer on legal affairs.

Other articles by this Author

All articles by John de Meyrick

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of John de Meyrick
Article Tools
Comment 7 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy