Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Lawyers who got holocaust denier locked up try to justify their attack on free speech

Freedom of speech should not be freedom to vilify, argue Steven Lewis and Peter Wertheim below -- without offering any evidence that such vilification leads to any physical harm to those vilified. What they offer is just a series of shallow and unsubstantited assertions. Can they name even ONE person who was moved by Mr. Toben's rants to attack a Jew? To show how shallow their argument is, contemplate this: I do my best to vilify the Queensland police, because I believe I have good grounds for doing so. Should I be prevented from doing that? It might also be noted that the lawyers concerned do a fair job of vilifying Mr. Toben. Why is that OK if vilification is of itself such a bad thing? I think that their argument reduces to nothing more than an aways-easy attack on unpopular speech. Wiser heads in the U.S. judiciary have of course ruled that holocaust denial is protected free speech, obnoxious though it may be

In a legal first, Australia's most notorious Holocaust denier, Fredrik Toben, has been jailed for three months following the failure of his appeal this week for contempt of court arising from breaches of Australia's anti-vilification laws.

The sentence follows seven years of Toben repeatedly ignoring court orders requiring him to remove racist material from his Adelaide Institute website.

His journey to prison began in 2002 when the Federal Court found Toben's website breached the racial-hatred provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act.

According to the court, material on the site suggested the Holocaust did not occur, that there were no gas chambers at Auschwitz, that Jewish people who believed in the Holocaust were of limited intelligence and that they have exaggerated the number of Jews killed during World War II to profit from what he described as "a Holocaust myth".

But it's not these claims, no matter how offensive they may be, that have landed Toben with a prison term. There are no criminal sanctions under the act.

Toben is going to jail for contempt of court. He was ordered to remove the offending material and he didn't. He promised to remove the material and then reneged. He apologised to the court but then recanted. True to form, he all but invited the court to lock him up.

Toben referred to judges as "the Jewdiciary" and, again true to form, accused them of bias without a shred of evidence. We all have to obey the law and court orders. There are no special rules and privileges for the Tobens of this world.

While the decision to jail Toben will be welcomed by most fair-minded people, questions will rightly be asked about free speech and turning Toben into a poster-boy for racist fringe groups.

The suggestion that Toben, and others like him, should be able to say whatever they like regardless of how hurtful, inaccurate and ugly it might be, goes to the heart of our dearly held belief in freedom of expression.

But does this sort of commentary, publicly attacking people because of their race, ethnicity or religion, really constitute community debate? Is it an exercise of free speech, or an abuse of it? When Jews in Australia are targeted, these questions take on a very sharp edge. Australia has the world's second highest percentage of Holocaust survivors after Israel.

Like all freedoms, the proper limits of free speech are exceeded when it is about causing harm. The basic question is whether vilification is sufficiently harmful to justify an intrusion by the law into this fundamental personal freedom.

Whether it's Jews, Muslims, homosexuals or women, the public vilification of entire groups of people can only undermine, and ultimately destroy, their sense of security, the birthright of every Australian.

Being constantly vilified as a member of a group, instead of being judged on one's individual merits, compromises one's social relationships. One is put on the defensive with workmates, friends, neighbours and anyone else with whom one interacts. Such is the power of modern communications. And vilification is the invariable precursor to violence against members of the targeted group.

The Racial Discrimination Act protects innocent people from this sort of harm.

But the harm has to be proved in court according to objective criteria. The act makes it clear that it is not unlawful to publish material in good faith as part of a genuine academic, artistic or scientific debate, whether anyone takes offence or not. What's clear in the Toben case, and what the court found, was that his material is not part of a genuine debate about history or politics, as he claimed. The real thrust of his material is to use the internet to stoke up hatred against Jews as a group.

Some argue that if Toben had been left alone to spruik from his Adelaide-based hate website he would have remained an obscure failed school teacher talking to like-minded nutters. Not so. Toben is a determined publicity hound. In 1999 he travelled to his native Germany and was convicted in Mannheim of incitement to racial hatred and Holocaust denial. In Germany, for obvious reasons, trying to whitewash the Nazis' crimes is a criminal offence. Toben spent seven months in jail.

In 2006, Toben went to Tehran for an anti-Semitic hatefest, hobnobbing in the media limelight with a cavalcade of some of the world's most notorious racists including Iranian President Ahmadinejad and US Ku Klux Klansman David Duke.

The publicity around the legal proceedings against Toben in Australia has been a mere zephyr in his international media whirl.

For reasons that defy conventional analysis, Toben has spent most of his adult life vainly working to rehabilitate the universally disgraced reputation of Nazi Germany. And for Toben, "the Jews" are the principal obstacle.

If Toben and his patsies confined their activities to ranting among themselves in private, few would care. But using our cherished freedoms and easy access to the mass media as a way of striking at the security of an entire group of people on racial grounds tears at the fabric of our community and ultimately threatens those very freedoms.

History has vividly demonstrated that the relentless infusion of racism into public discourse is like drip-feeding poison into the democratic body politic. And in the words of American philosopher George Santayana: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it."


Frontal attack on young families by the Federal government

In the name of "safety", childcare is to be made far too dear for most families. This will lead to a lot of "backyard" operations or very impoverished families

QUEENSLAND parents could soon be paying $5000 more a year for child care, under a Federal Government plan to lift preschool education standards. The proposed changes will be rolled out in all Australian childcare centres in a bid to tighten up the industry by improving staff-to-child ratios and qualifications. But industry experts say the cost to parents is likely to be "substantial" and make it even harder to find childcare places. A government report by consultants Access Economics shows how, under one scenario, childcare costs could jump by $125 per child per week if all changes were implemented.

Childcare Queensland president Gwynn Bridge said initial costings suggested most childcare centres in Queensland would likely have to raise annual fees by $5000 a child. She said changes to staff-to-child ratios would force some centres to take even fewer children. "We are extremely concerned about this plan, as the incurring costs to families is looking to be substantial," Ms Bridge said. "The repercussions for Queensland are terrible, and we are in a unique and uncomfortable position compared with other states. "Childcare places for babies are already under high demand, and the proposed changes mean we will be able to take on even fewer. "We are advocating on behalf of families to ensure we get the best outcome for our Queensland families, who are already doing it tough."

The plan will be implemented by July 1 next year, following consultation with the industry, and be fully in place by January 2012. Childcare Queensland will make submissions to the Government by August 31.

Under the planned changes, one carer would be responsible for five children aged between 2½ and 3, rather than the current eight children, and one carer would look after 11 children aged between 3 and 5, rather than the current one staff to 12 children ratio. The current Queensland baby ratio is one to four aged up to 15 months, but this would change to one to three for up to 2 years. Childcare workers would also be required to have one staff member with a four-year teaching qualification at a tertiary level.

Child Care National Association president Chris Buck said families had been kept in the dark about the extra costs involved. "If perceived quality goes up, so do the costs," he said. "The risk being run by the Government is that fewer families will be able to afford child care."


Flight to private health insurers

PEOPLE have flocked to private health insurance in an apparent rejection of the Rudd Government's ability to fix the public health system and in a bid to escape a new levy. The Private Health Insurance Administration Council will today report that private health coverage increased by about 43,000 people since the March quarter – or about 211,000 more people compared with the same time last year.

The Courier-Mail can also report that Queensland Health cancelled 273 elective surgeries in the past month – up from 121 the year before. "Queensland hospitals are currently experiencing an increased demand due to seasonal winter symptoms and H1N1 (and) the increased demand has resulted in some elective surgery patients being postponed due to no ward or intensive care unit beds," a spokesman said.

Federal Opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton questioned the ability of Queensland Health to run an effective system at a time when billions have been diverted to the public health sector, much of it to cut elective surgery waiting lists.

Today's release of the new private health statistics – recorded during rising unemployment, the global financial meltdown and a 6 per cent rise on premiums – comes just days before the Rudd Government introduces a Budget measure that will no longer give high-earners a rebate for taking up private health insurance. But the Bill will be knocked back in the Senate by the Coalition and Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.

The Coalition has accused the Government of breaking its promise to retain support for private health insurance. The Government has already implemented a measure this year, requiring more people to take on private health insurance or face a levy. It sparked the Opposition to claim people would drop out, thereby driving up premiums.

Buoyed by the results, Health Minister Nicola Roxon, who attacked the Liberals yesterday on News Ltd's online site, The Punch, said the Coalition should not use low and middle-income earners to prop up rebates for the rich. Under the new Bill, rebates will be removed for singles earning more than $120,000; reduced from 30 to 10 per cent for those earning more than $90,000; and to 20 per cent for those on more than $75,000.


Vaccine fear campaign investigated

These fruitcakes certainly are dangerous

A GROUP that claims vaccines cause autism, brain damage and cancer has been reported to the healthcare watchdog for allegedly spreading misinformation and endangering children's health. The official complaint to the Health Care Complaints Commission follows a newspaper advertisement paid for by businessman Dick Smith pleading with parents to ignore the Australian Vaccination Network's fear campaign.

AVN is run by Meryl Dorey, who publishes a website and newsletter, campaigns against mass public immunisation programs and promotes the use of homeopathy to prevent disease.

The Australian Skeptics group supports the complaint that Ms Dorey and the network are breaching the Health Care Complaints Act by making unsubstantiated health claims based on "conspiracy theories", pseudo-scientific evidence and debunked research.

Ms Dorey, of Bangalow on the Far North Coast, says her eldest son, now 20, was "vaccine-injured" from the diphtheria-tetanus-polio immunisation when he was two months old and the measles-mumps-rubella shot at 12 months. She attributes his life-long sleep apnoea and allergies to the vaccinations. Ms Dorey said she was not anti-vaccination, just "pro-information and pro-choice". "We never have and never will tell anyone that they should not vaccinate. We simply fill the information void left by government and the mainstream medical community," she said.

But Dick Smith, the Skeptics and the author of the complaint, Ken McLeod, say Ms Dorey and AVN do not promote choice because her speeches and publications never mention the proven benefits of immunisation, and the group's motto is: "Love them, protect them, never inject them.". "They can have their view but be upfront about it and don't quote dubious scientific evidence that has been debunked," Skeptics executive officer Tim Mendham said.

Mr Smith wrote and funded the advertisement because he believed young, vulnerable mothers were being conned by the network's claim to be an independent voice.

Complaints commission executive officer Kim Swan said the allegations were being assessed, and AVN had been asked to respond. Ms Dorey said the commission did not have jurisdiction over her or the network because she was not medically qualified and did not provide a health service.


Labor government aims at national teacher rankings

Good stuff but it is rather surprising that they are defying the teachers' unions. Has some deal been done?

TEACHERS' pay could soon reflect their value in the classroom while schools' performance will be made public as an online report card rolls out next year.

Deputy Prime Minister and Education Minister Julia Gillard believes teachers should be remunerated using a merit-based pay system and will work with education experts to develop a national benchmark that will rank every teacher's value. Ms Gillard said a top-tier band existed in many states and territories and the only way for them to get paid more was to move away from face-to-face teaching. "We want to reward teachers - especially great quality teachers - and (those) prepared to go to disadvantaged schools where their excellent teaching skills can make the most difference," Ms Gillard said.

"Under the system that we're proposing, we would have a national accreditation system where people could be judged against national standards. "Then we want to see school systems better rewarding those highly accomplished teachers, particularly for teaching in disadvantaged schools." Some of those standards incorporate face-to-face teaching skills and knowledge of the curriculum.

From 2010 people will be able to compare schools using an online portal that will rank schools, compare resources and show teachers' qualifications. "We need greater transparency ... so we know what's happening in each and every school and so does the public," Ms Gillard said. Other means include the publication of national education results.


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