Dean Alston, political cartoonist at the West Australian, is all too familiar with the “racial discrimination” pressure now being brought to bear on Bill Leak.
Almost 20 years ago, I created a cartoon about a group of WA Aboriginal people who went to England to retrieve the head of Noongar warrior Yagan.
The cartoon highlighted the infighting over the taxpayer-funded trip as people fought for limited spaces on the touring party. The final panel had an image of Yagan’s head in a box saying, “Give me a warm beer in a quiet Pommy pub any day”.
The cartoon upset a few people and one complained to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission that it was likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate Noongar people, citing section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
There was me thinking that it was fair comment and it was the conduct of the would-be travellers that was insulting and intimidating. The complaint was dismissed under section 18D of the Act which provides for exemptions for artistic works and anything said reasonably or in good faith.
One Robert Bropho then made an appeal to the Federal Court and the legal action continued for seven years. The end result was that the appeal was dismissed, supporting the original decision that the cartoon encouraged public discussion and that it was in the public interest to do so.
I’ve had lots of complaints during my career. I’ve had death threats, tears from politicians and friendly chats with people offering to help me think differently.
But we live in a land of free speech, right? Wrong.
Without doubt, Aboriginals and “new” Australians weathered their fair share of racism and abuse in years past. Successive generations have sought to redress the wrongs and we have seen a successful transition to a multicultural society. I don’t know many Australians who wouldn’t lend a helping hand to an Aboriginal or a migrant in need.
Through a process of free speech and workable laws, most Australians receive a fair go. The key to real change and acknowledgement of past failures is surely free speech.
What is happening in Australia now, where the right to freely express an opinion is being hampered, is an overreaction to past flaws and the arrival of an army of PC zealots ready to use and misuse section 18C to further their ends.
Yes indeed, offending people is the whole point of free speech.