Friday, February 15, 2013
Free speech problems
Part of an opinion article by Richard Ackland is reproduced below in the interests of full and fair public discussion. Ackland is a Left-leaning Australian lawyer and the article below reflects the ambivalence many Leftists feel about hate-speech laws. They fear that such laws could ensnare them in the heat of political disagreements. But Ackland appears to think that some expansion of such law is needed and that the conservative impulse to get such laws expunged is wrong.
His argument against the conservative case put by Tony Abbott is however both "ad hominem" and misleading. The matter Abbott went to court over was a libel case -- in response to false and scurrilous allegations published about himself and a woman not his wife. It was not a case brought under anti-discrimination law.
Libel has always been recognized as not protected free speech in the USA despite their first amendment protections of speech so Ackland's apparent conflation of libellous speech with free speech is tendentious and misleading. He would seem simply to be making a snide point motivated by a need to discredit conservatives rather than by any intention of making fair comparisons. It is unworthy of Mr Ackland
Travelling on public transport can be traumatic. Particularly if you're the ABC newsreader Jeremy Fernandez with his young daughter on a Sydney bus, subjected to the racist rantings of an unhinged banshee. A French woman singing on a Melbourne bus was subjected to a similar tirade, but in that case it seemed to be more of a mob onslaught.
The law says people are not supposed to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate because of someone's race, colour or ethnic origin - in public, of course; at home you can pretty much be as vile as you like.
The previous attorney-general, Nicola Roxon, had been howled down because she suggested in an "exposure draft" of a new anti-discrimination bill that those terms should apply across the board in all cases of discrimination by means of "unfavourable treatment".
Free-speech champion Tony Abbott has promised to repeal this part of the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form.
The new Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, says he'll be agonising over getting the balance right between free speech and "protecting the community".
The ABC chairman, James Spigelman, said in a speech in December to the Human Rights Commission that words such as "offend" and "insult" go too far, that they impinge on freedom of speech in ways that words like "humiliate" and "intimidate" do not.
Presumably he means the free speech protection goes a notch higher if the basic requirements of anti-discrimination protections are at the humiliation and intimidation end of the nastiness spectrum.
We're playing here with the English language and the distinctions are not always visible. In every case the line between insult and humiliation may not be clear. But Spigelman is surely right when he says, "there is no right not be offended".
The long-serving Melbourne media lawyer Peter Bartlett recently said in an interview that "the present anti-discrimination legislation we've got is a significant problem for the media". He told the Gazette of Law & Journalism (interest disclosure: publisher is moi) that he's had to deal with discrimination complaints claiming that articles on paedophilia vilify all Catholics.
A newspaper report about a Turkish man's run-in with police has prompted a complaint that all Turks are vilified.
The Australian Financial Review had complaints from Italians in Melbourne over a drawing by Michael Fitzjames of the map of Italy which he called Berlusconia with the major cities given names like Necappi, Ponzi, Pestilenti, Spivi and so on.
It went on an on and cost the paper an enormous amount of time, energy and money. Interestingly, this case was brought under Victorian legislation, which deals with hatred and serious contempt - not offence or insult. Even at that higher standard, it still took ages to reach settlement.
Bartlett said: "Some of these complaints are ludicrous. There are more and more of them. Regulatory authorities are not looking at them and saying 'This clearly has no merit and should be dismissed.' It is very frustrating."
It's probably an unreasonable expectation that the number of ludicrous complaints will drop off if the law gets rid of "offend and insult" and just sticks with "humiliate and intimidate". Maybe, the Italians, Turks or Catholics will feel the humiliation rather than the offence.
While Abbott has pledged to get rid of "offensive" he, in his own defamation case with Peter Costello and their wives against Random House over the Bob Ellis's book Goodbye Jerusalem, was happy to be compensated for an even lower level of grief - "hurt feelings".
Hurt feelings are enough for Abbott to go running to the law but he won't allow anyone to seek a remedy for being offended or insulted.
In his free speech address last August he thought that the ancient common law offences of "incitement and causing fear" should be enough grounds for a racial vilification case.
It's not certain but he seemed to be saying that racial vilification should be left to common law, which means unelected judges.
Burn-off policy outrage in Tasmania
A GROUP of Tasmanian farmers say their livelihoods are being threatened by bureaucratic red tape stopping them from burning off on their land and putting their properties at risk of further catastrophic fires.
Lobby group leader and owner of Redbanks at Nugent, Sorell councillor Lindsay White, was due to take part in a teleconference last night with the NSW Volunteer Firefighters Association to give advice based on the issues facing Tasmanian farmers after the Lake Repulse, Forcett and Molesworth fires.
"Our group believes that farmers' property rights have been eroded over the past 30 years to appease the wishes of government departments," Mr White said.
"Farmers are unable to effectively manage their own properties because of the quagmire of red and green tape," he said.
The group has now met with Emergency Management Minister David O'Byrne and Tasmania Fire Service chief Mike Brown to voice their concerns and demand change.
A Facebook page has also been set up called "It's Our Land Too" calling for supporters, and Mr White wants to hear from other landowners struggling to deal with bureaucratic red tape.
The group says the Forcett fire would not have exploded into such a catastrophic event if Parks and Wildlife adhered to their reserves management plans and the Tasmania Fire Service "heeded the advice of local fire chiefs and farmers".
The TFS says it will work with farmers to address their concerns.
But Mr Brown said it was important to note that while the Forcett fire burned with the same ferocity of the deadly 1967 bushfires, there was no loss of life and far less property damage.
Carlton River farmer Leigh Arnold lost a shearing shed, wool shed and house in the Forcett blaze and says it was the final straw after hundreds of acres he planned to subdivide on his property were locked up after being deemed "potential foraging ground" for the swift parrot.
An extreme contrast between electric cars and V8s
Governments are pissing into the wind with their "green" car initiatives. Virtually nobody wants them.
Holden has revealed the V8 muscle car that will take on the American car industry at its own game.
The SS Commodore will form the basis of a $200 million export program that will see the car sold as a Chevrolet alongside the iconic Camaro and Corvette muscle cars.
The car will also take to America's oval race tracks, becoming Chevrolet's entrant in the Nascar series, which ranks second only to the NFL in television ratings.
Holden moved forward the unveiling of the new Commodore because the export version will be shown to the American public for the first time tomorrow, as part of the lead up to the legendary Daytona 500.
The car will have one of the most powerful V8s ever fitted to a locally-produced car and Holden will only sell the most powerful – and, likely, thirstiest – version.
The move flies in the face of the Federal Government's controversial Green Car Innovation Fund, which has pumped money into the local car industry to make it more environmentally friendly.
In an era of downsizing and more fuel efficient vehicles – Holden has invested tens of millions of dollars into the new Commodore to reduce weight and improve fuel economy by about 10 per cent - the country's newest export is also its thirstiest.
The export car will look almost identical to the recently-revealed VF Commodore SS-V, albeit with Chevrolet badges and – possibly – bonnet scoops to give it a more aggressive look.
However it's expected to get a 6.2-litre V8, which will outgun the Holden version that makes do with a 6.0-litre V8.
Holden has said it is looking to sell between 3000 and 5000 to Chevrolet in the US, where it will be sold as the brand's flagship performance sedan, the SS.
It will likely sit between the locally-designed Camaro two-door and the Corvette flagship as a four-door performance hero in the Chevrolet range.
However Holden insiders have suggested those sales estimates are “very conservative” and that executives on both sides of the Pacific hope to achieve higher numbers, reinforcing the demand for V8 sedans.
Even the Corvette – a purebred sports car – sells in far higher numbers; it has regularly accounted for more than 30,000 in annual sales and even since the global financial crisis has accounted for more than 10,000 sales annually.
In Australia sales of V8s are strong, too, with about one-third of all Commodores sold fitted with a V8.
The figures show that despite a global push towards fuel efficiency, Australians are reluctant to sacrifice power for fuel economy and environmental concerns.
Despite significant media coverage and new arrivals last year, fewer than 200 all-electric cars were sold in 2012, whereas more than 25,000 V8-powered cars were sold in Australia.
Unnecessary deaths in Aust emergency rooms
More than one-third of patients in Australia's hospital emergency rooms are not being seen in the recommended time, a report has found.
That can translate into "unnecessary deaths", according to the Australian Medical Association (AMA).
Last year, 66 per cent of patients categorised as urgent at public hospital emergency departments were seen within 30 minutes - the time recommended by the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine. That fell below the national performance target of 80 per cent.
AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton says there is strong local evidence that people are at risk of injury and even death if hospitals don't have the capacity to meet patient demand.
"If there's insufficient beds in the system and we can't get people out of emergency it does cause harm," Mr Hambleton told reporters in Sydney on Friday.
"We do see unnecessary deaths that we do want to protect against."
The 2013 AMA Public Hospital Report Card found that despite a 10 per cent increase in federal funding since 2008 to 2011, there was no improvement in the performance of the nation's public hospitals.
The lack of improvement is a result of federal and state governments "playing the blame game", the AMA says.
"We've seen a lot of state governments withdrawing funds," Mr Hambleton said.
"And we've seen the federal government doing the same thing.
"We need to focus on solving the problem and not blaming each other.
"The fact is when you're sitting in emergency with your mum, you want to make sure that we've got the capacity to see her on time and have that chest pain sorted out."
Federal health minister Tanya Plibersek said the report card showed that work was required to improve emergency waiting times and elective surgery waiting lists.
"This report reminds us that we cannot slacken off; we need to be professional," she told reporters in Sydney.
Ms Plibersek said it was essential that federal and state governments worked together financially to enhance health care.
"Extra money has to come with better management, not just from the commonwealth, but also the states and territories," she said.
"Improving our health system has to be a partnership."
Ms Plibersek refused to be drawn on whether the states were responsible for the poor report card, telling reporters: "I'm not blaming anyone."