Sadly, it looks like 18c is not going to be done away with in a hurry. It’s a shame, because making a crime out of causing offence to someone is an utterly ridiculous burden upon free speech and debate. It does nothing to stop racism, or give justice to someone who is actually caused a harm based on their race, religion or anything else, but we’ve been told that getting rid of 18c will open the floodgates for all these things to become commonplace, or worse, normalised.
The reality is, we have other laws that cover those crimes more than adequately, so it is hardly like the push for removing 18c was led by the frustrated local KKK ‘Grand Wizard’, who had until then, gone largely unnoticed in our community (burning his crosses and preaching his hate in private, as 18c was the only thing keeping him at bay apparently!). The push to repeal 18c had supporters who weren’t asking for the ‘freedom to be bigots’ (wow, was that ever a bad choice of words), but rather the right to speak freely without fear of being taken to court for causing hurt feelings, offence or insult to a person. Instead of a society that embraces vigorous, free and open discussion on all topics as a means to progress to better understanding, by holding onto 18c we’re announcing ourselves as a nation that needs to control and monitor debate. Not because the topic of debate is unnecessary, but rather because some of the freely spoken words might upset some of the participants.
To placate the perpetually offended minority, we’ve got to wear a huge cost as a population. Others have a more public and personal suffering though, like Mike Carlton. I might not read much of what he has to say, but he has just as much a right as I, or anyone else, to voice an opinion. We aren’t forced to read it, nor are we forced to agree with it or support it. It may have offended you, or someone you know, but there were also those who saw it and agreed with the sentiment it was expressing. Therefore, we have a bit of an issue - we clearly have at least two sides to consider, so how does it benefit us, or allow us understanding of the whole problem, if one side is silenced? I’m sure plenty more convictions could be had if we only ever allowed juries to hear the prosecution evidence in a criminal case, and debates would be easy to decide if only one side was allowed to present their argument.
Part of the problem with repealing 18c is that fear sells, and fear motivates. We were told that a future without 18c was a future to be feared, and it was sold with a catch. If you support the repeal of 18c, you’re a ‘racist’. People always feel far more assured when there is a clear right and wrong side to an argument, especially if it involves a touchy subject, so when ‘supporters of the repeal of 18c’ was equated continually with ‘racist’, or ‘bigot’, the choice was highlighted as having a clear ‘morally right’ and ‘morally wrong’ option – and as an added bonus, it didn’t even ask you to think too hard. Racists and bigots = bad, therefore, repeal of 18c must be bad, because it is supported by bad people. If racists and bigots are behind the push for something, don’t think too much, just decry it. For a country so smart, we allowed ourselves to be drawn into a debate based more on emotion than intellect, reason or understanding.
Perhaps we need a slogan, or a label, to use when referring to the supporters of 18c. But what one word shortcoming or slur best describes someone who believes emotions should be so highly valued that we legislate to protect against anyone making us feel the bad ones? Hmmm, how does ‘hysterical’ sound? Or ‘unbalanced’? Doesn’t quite have the same ring as ‘racist’, or the negative connotations to surround it, does it? Maybe that is because it is one of the things that unites us as human beings - our ability to have emotions.
We fear them, embrace them, and try to control them. We don’t want to be punished for having them, but also have an instinct to protect them. Without them, we would be just a mess of flesh and electrical impulses, and life would be pointless, but allowing them to rule us, control us, or form the basis for the decisions we make – is madness. When we give in to emotion, we tend to compromise our values, which should be far more important when we choose which laws we want to govern our lives and form the basis for the behaviour we expect from the society we live in.
Minority groups do not have to fear a repeal of 18c. The worst harms that can be done to anyone in a minority group in Australia are something every Australian is protected from. I don’t want to be denied a job, a house, or places at schools for my children based on my race. 18c doesn’t protect me from this, but Anti-Discrimination laws do.
If my face is plastered on the internet, along with untrue claims about my character or lifestyle, raised only because of my race or perceived religion (for the record, I don’t have one), then our Defamation laws are in place to afford me protection from this, not 18c.
If I am injured in an assault, that occurs because a gang of thugs decided to attack me only because of my race, then Criminal laws are available to have them charged and the appropriate punishment given.
If a new family moves in next door, and started to repeatedly insult and offend me, by making racial insults about me in public, in front of my kids or friends, I could seek an AVO against them if attempting to befriend them first and ‘enlighten’ them from their racism a more productive way continued to fail and I felt threatened or bullied by their behaviour. If it was bad enough, perhaps even Vilification laws would cover their behaviour. Either way, in a situation like this, 18c is again not going to give me the protection or assistance I require.
18c can be used, however, to remove some of my freedoms. I cannot guarantee that the words I write will not offend or insult someone. I cannot control how other people construe or choose to interpret my words, and I write about topics that can cause heated discussion from time to time. I shouldn’t be denied the right to express myself freely through reasoned opinions, just because they may stir an emotion in another, nor should anyone else. It is a standard we will all eventually fail, and not through malice, or with the express intent of causing harm, but because we’re yet to agree on everything, and something is bound upset someone, somewhere, at some time. We’re 26+ million diverse people after all.