Friday, April 04, 2014

Jewish Community Council of Victoria ‘deeply concerned’ over proposed race law Act changes

This report concerns what is a hot political issue in Australia at the moment:  An attempt to tone down Federal hate-speech legislation.   

Michael Danby (below) has a good point:  With the moderation that is characteristic of Australians, the existing law was enforced for many years with very little controversy.  It is when the law got into the hands of an immoderate judge that it delivered an atrocious outcome   -- which the Parliament is now trying to prevent for the future

The obnoxious verdict was delivered by Jewish judge Mordecai Bromberg.  As a Jew, his great sensitivity to any hint of racism is readily understood.  But he should not have allowed that sensitivity to warp his verdict.  He should have recused himself from the case.  It is he who has made the existing law untenable.

THE Caulfield South-based Jewish Community Council of Victoria says it is “deeply concerned” about proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

In a statement, it says it wants protections against hate speech maintained and is making a submission to the Attorney-General.

The Abbott Government is proposing to water down the Act in the name of free speech.

The JCCV, however, says freedom of speech is a “very important right but not an absolute right’’.  President Nina Bassat AM said “hate speech based on race, ethnicity or religion should be deplored and all members of society should be protected from it’’.

“Just as freedom of speech should be valued, so should the right of people to be part of a free and fair society without suffering the emotional and mental damage caused by hate speech.

“We believe that the Racial Discrimination Act as it stands has been working well and is effective in creating an environment that supports multiculturalism and a harmonious Victorian community.”

She further said it was not just a Jewish issue or an Aboriginal issue, but an issue for all members of society.

Melbourne Ports federal Labor MP Michael Danby has been critical of the proposed changes, telling Parliament on March 27 that Australians would be “scratching their heads’’.

“Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act existed for the 11 years of the Howard government. It worked very well,’’ he said.

“There were 1650 complaints, 500 of those dealt with conciliation and most of the rest were dropped — very few went to court. If it was good enough for John Howard for all of those years, I cannot understand what is not good enough for this government.’’


How a ban on hate speech helped the Nazis

WHAT could an eccentric Swedish pastor, a drunk British student and Brigitte Bardot possibly have in common?

All have been imprisoned or threatened with imprisonment for saying offensive things about minority groups.

The Swedish pastor, Ake Green, was sentenced to a month in jail in 2004 for criticising homosexuality from the pulpit of his Pentecostal church.

He described homosexuality as “abnormal, a horrible cancerous tumour in the body of ­society”.

A local judge decreed that these words constituted a hate crime under Swedish law, which forbids making statements that “threaten or express disrespect for an ethnic group or similar group”.

The British student, Liam Stacey, was sentenced to 56 days in prison at Swansea Magistrates’ Court in 2012 after he tweeted racist comments about black soccer player Fabrice Muamba.

Stacey, inebriated at the time of his unhinged tweeting, was found guilty under Britain’s extraordinarily broad Public Order Act, which makes it an ­offence to “display any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting”.

As for Bardot, the French movie starlet turned animal rights activist, she hasn’t been jailed for the things she has said, but she has been fined and warned that jail is a possibility in the future.

In her role as animal lover, Bardot has become a ­vociferous critic of the Islamic ritualised slaughter of animals, describing it as a barbaric practice that is “destroying our country”.

For saying stuff like that, she has been convicted and fined five times under France’s 1881 Law on Freedom of the Press, which makes it a crime to “incite racial discrimination, hatred or violence”, and has had to fork out €30,000.

Those are just three of the thousands of punishments for hate speech doled out in Europe in recent years.

In Canada, too, people have found themselves on the receiving end of censure for saying hateful or disrespectful things about certain groups.

So as Australians hotly debate section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, under which journalist Andrew Bolt was punished in 2011 for criticising “fair-skinned people” who claim to be Aboriginal, it’s worth pulling back and looking at the international context.

Globally speaking, there’s little novel about Bolt’s case. His political criticisms of Aboriginal heritage could just as easily have landed him in legal hot water in Europe and other parts of the world.

The Bolt case is no Aussie one-off — it’s better understood as part of a global war against so-called hate speech, where states are clamping down on what they consider to be offensive words, and in the process are criminalising certain moral, political and religious world views and trampling on freedom of speech.

Section 18C makes it unlawful for individuals to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of race or ethnicity.

Attorney-General George Brandis is trying to reform it, suggesting that, in the interests of freedom of speech, the words “offend”, “insult” and “humiliate” should be taken out, but “intimidate” should be left in and joined by the word “vilify”.

Similar laws against hateful or insulting expression exist across Europe and, as in Australia, they’ve been used not only to punish the blindly prejudiced but also those who possess outre views.

So in Denmark it is against the law to “mock or scorn … any lawfully existing religious community”.

Do that, and you can be jailed for four months.

In Finland, anyone who “distributes among the public” words that “threaten, slander or insult on account of race” can be jailed for up to two years.

In Germany it’s against the law to “insult, maliciously malign or defame” people on the basis of race or religion.

France criminalises “any ­offensive expression, contemptuous term or invective” against racial or religious groups.

In Belgium, anyone who “insults a religious object”, including by “words (or) gestures”, can be jailed for up to six months.

Never shake a fist at a statue of the Virgin Mary if you visit Belgium.

Across the pond, in Canada, the Human Rights Act forbids the public expression of “hateful or contemptuous” thoughts about ethnic minorities and faith groups.

All these laws have been used to punish not just the mad racist who screams the N-word on street corners but also political speech and expressions of religious conviction.

So, in Britain, three Muslims were recently convicted of a hate crime for distributing a leaflet in which the word gay was laid out as an acronym that said “God ­Abhors You”.

In 2010, a Danish historian was found guilty of “insulting” a religious group after he said in an inter­view that there was a peculiarly high incidence of crime in Muslim areas.

In 2011, an Austrian writer was found guilty of “agitating against a group” and fined €480 for giving a critical speech on Islam that included the line, “Mohammed had a thing for little girls”.

In 2010, a Finnish politician was found guilty of “incitement against an ethnic group” after he said increased immigration to Finland would increase crime.

We may well disagree with the views expressed in these cases. But they’re nonetheless just views; expressions of strong religious ideas about sexuality or political opposition to immigration. Increasingly in the West, what would once have been seen as legitimate speech in the rowdy fray of public debate is being rebranded “hatred” and punished with fines or jail time.

However much PC packaging is attached to these laws, there’s no dodging the fact they are used to deeply censorious ends, punishing moral outlooks that the mainstream finds offensive.

Where did these laws punishing mockery and offence come from? Tracing the history of hate speech legislation is fascinating, for it tells us a profound and depressing story about the modern West’s bit-by-bit abandonment of free speech.

Modern hate speech leg­islation was born from World War II. There was a feeling that hatred needed to be curbed to prevent another outburst of fascist hysteria. But it wasn’t Western governments calling for laws against hate speech — it was the authoritarian Soviet Union.

In 1948, world leaders gathered to construct a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the Soviet representatives argued that the section on free speech should be qualified by strictures against hate speech. They proposed an amendment making it a crime to advocate “national, racial or religious hostility”. “(We cannot) allow advocacy of hatred or religious contempt,” they said.

Such efforts to water down freedom of speech in the name of combating hate were opposed by Western delegates. From the US, Eleanor Roosevelt said a hate speech qualification would be “extremely dangerous” since “any criticism of public or religious authorities might all too easily be described as incitement to hatred” (how prescient she was). In later discussions, British representative Lady Gaitskell said a hate speech amendment would “infringe the fundamental right of freedom of speech”.

The Soviets lost on the hate speech front in 1948. But they kept pushing. They were finally successful in 1965 with the creation of the UN’s International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. Despite the continued opposition of Western delegates and their allies — one of whom said that “to penalise ideas, whatever their nature, is to pave the way for tyranny” — the new 1965 convention did contain a section calling for the criminalisation of “ideas based on racial superiority or ­hatred”.

It was the spread of this convention into domestic law, everywhere from Austria to Australia, that led to the creation of crimes of hate speech around the world in the late 1960s and early 70s.

So the story of hate speech laws is a story of the West’s slow but sure ditching of freedom of speech. Where once Western leaders opposed the criminalisa­tion of words — “whatever their nature” — more recently they’ve come to see certain speech as dangerous after all, and something that must be punished.

We’re witnessing the victory of the Soviet view of speech as bad and censorship as good, with various members of the modern West’s chattering classes unwittingly aping yesteryear’s communist tyrants as they call for the banning of “advocacy of hatred”, and a corresponding demise of the older enlightened belief that ideas and words should never be curtailed.

Some will say, “So what if we’re finishing off the Soviet Union’s dirty work? At least we’re preventing hatred.” But here’s the thing: history shows that, actually, hate speech laws don’t even help to combat hate.

The Weimar Republic of the 30s had laws against “insulting religious communities”. They were used to prosecute hundreds of Nazi agitators, including Joseph Goebbels. Did it stop them? No. It helped them.

The Nazis turned their prosecutions for hate speech to their advantage, presenting themselves as political victims and whipping up public support among aggrieved sections of German society, their future social base. Far from halting Nazism, hate speech legislation assisted it.

It is surely time every hate speech law was repealed. They are a menace to free thought and speech, and the worst tool imaginable for fighting real hatred.


New dams to tackle major flood events in Queensland

This will be a red rag to the Greenies

THE Queensland Government will consider increasing the size of Wivenhoe Dam and constructing a number of new dams to lessen the impact of future major floods.

It follows the announcement to change the way the dam operates in times of extreme weather to release more water to prevent widespread downstream flooding.

Premier Campbell Newman said the locations of eight new dams had been identified which would potentially protect thousands of homes and businesses.

"This is very early days and I stress to those landowners in the areas affected that there is a lot of work that needs to be undertaken before any plans are implemented," Mr Newman said.

"But it is our duty to do whatever work we can to investigate all possible options."

Possible new dam sites include the upper Brisbane River (near Linville), the Cooyar Creek (near Benarkin National Park), Emu Creek (near Harlin), the Bremer River (near Mt Walker), the Stanley River (near Peachester), Tenterhill Creek (near Gatton), Lockyer Creek (near Murphy's Creek) and Cressbrook Creek (near Kipper).

A scoping study will also take place to look at raising bridge levels below Wivenhoe Dam.

Energy and Water Supply Minister Mark McArdle said the Government would consider practical, sensible and affordable ways to protect more people from future floods.

"Unlike Labor, this government is very upfront and honest about the trade-offs people should expect in managing future flood events in order to provide greater flood protection for more local homes and businesses," Mr McArdle said.

"This government has already moved-on from simply thinking about how to reduce downstream flood risks to engaging in a public discussion about how we can build-in greater flood mitigation for more peoples' homes.

"Before the next wet season, south east Queensland residents should have confidence in the fact that if there is a flood event, dam operating decisions will always place greatest value in life, then people's homes, businesses and livelihood - and then public roads and bridges."

Mr McArdle said the Wivenhoe and Somerset Dams would be upgraded over the next 10 years as part of Seqwater's ongoing dam improvement program.


South Korea free trade deal to create 1000 Australian jobs a year

PRIME MINISTER Tony Abbott will ink a landmark deal with South Korea next Tuesday to create 1000 Aussie jobs a year and cut the cost of imported cars and clothing.

Three in five jobs created will be in NSW and the rest in Victoria with Australia’s beef, dairy, vegetable, fruit and nut growers the biggest beneficiaries.

Korea has already signed similar FTAs with the United States and European Union and failure to reach a deal would have seen a slump in Australian exports.

Instead, Australian exports to Korea will increase by 25 per cent, confidential modelling for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade reveals.

The biggest jobs boost will be next year, when 1745 jobs will be created. But the boost will continue for at least 15 years, with 950 new jobs expected in 2030.

This will help to offset some looming job losses in manufacturing.

However, the trade deal will also add to those pressures. Lower tariffs on imported Korean textiles, footwear, auto parts and steel products will make it harder for Aussie manufacturers to compete.

Korean tariffs on imported cigarettes and tobacco will be slashed from 40 per cent to 15 per cent  making it cheaper for international giants like Philip Morris, which this week announced 180 job losses at its Melbourne factory, to manufacture there.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb this week acknowledged the losses, but said they will be outweighed by job gains. “You do see job losses; they’re very prominent in the community. What you don’t see is the new jobs that are created,” he said.

Lower tariffs will also make imported Korean goods like cars, clothes and electronics cheaper for Australian consumers.

South Korea is Australia’s fourth largest trading partner and the biggest buyer of Australian sugar.

The Department’s modelling shows job gains will be strongest in the beef industry, followed by dairy, raw milk, vegetables, fruits, nuts and sugar industries.

Overall will boost Australis economic output by $5 billion over the period to 2030.

A research fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies, Stephen Kirchner, said the benefits of freer trade outweighed the negatives. “We will get more jobs overall through increased trade and investment with South Korea.”

Tony Abbott will also use next week’s Asia tour to push for progress on a free trade agreement with Japan, and with Australia’s largest trading partner, China.

The deal with China has been nine years in the making, but Mr Abbott has promised a deal within his first year.



Paul said...

The JCCV, however, says freedom of speech is a “very important right but not an absolute right’’.

At least they acknowledge its importance, even if they'd prefer we didn't have it.

Brett_McS said...

Bans on Hate Speech then helped the Nazis of old. Bans on Hate Speech help the Nazis of today. And as the great Kathy Shaidle says "Muslims aren't the new Jews, they're the new Nazis".