Channel 10 news and entertainment program The Project – “news delivered differently” – Tuesday night addressed proposed changes to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Lawyer Waleed Aly was deemed most qualified to provide analysis – video here, starts at 3:40.

From the outset Aly is at his glib, condescending best:

Yep, here we go again with old mate 18C, which for the past 22 years has made it illegal to offend, insult or humiliate people based on race or ethnicity.

The longevity of 18C apparently confirming its appropriateness. Aly no doubt supports longer-lived laws which stipulate that marriage is solely between a man and a woman.

The thing is, it hasn’t hampered freedom of speech because old mate 18C has another mate, 18D and you can’t talk about one without the other. Section 18D says you totally can racially offend, insult or humiliate if you do it reasonably and in good faith or for artistic, academic scientific or there public interest purposes, which is a pretty broad defence.

There are three cases that people like to cite to illustrate how 18C is such a pain in the free speech arse. The thing about those examples is they actually illustrate how free speech is alive and well.

Cut to archival footage of a guffawing Bill Leak, thus illustrating the cartoonist didn’t have a care in the world, Aly providing voiceover:

Last year Bill Leak was sued under 18C over this cartoon depicting Aboriginal men as drunk losers [straight from the laughing Leak to the “offensive” cartoon; nicely done Channel 10 – Ed] who can’t remember the names of their own kids.

Offensive? Yep. Insulting? Sure. But illegal? No. In fact the claim against it was so baseless it didn’t even make it to the Human Rights Commission because if it had section 18D would have given Bill Leak a watertight defence.

End of Bill Leak segment.

Lawyer Aly’s misrepresentations  – remember, he’s supposedly providing factual analysis – are nothing short of grotesque.

The cartoon shows not drunken, loser Aboriginal men but a man who can’t remember his son’s name drinking a beer. Aly, probably because he’s aware of alcohol and family realities within some Aboriginal communities, is assuming Leak’s intent.

Leak was not sued under 18C, a complaint was lodged with the HRC after Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane solicited submissions. The complaint was eventually withdrawn but only after Leak was informed, legal counsel sought and correspondence entered into. In the course of written exchanges the HRC was informed that Leak claimed an 18D defence but the matter was dropped only when the complainant withdrew her complaint.

Waleed should perhaps change his surname to Alyr.

Update: Leak son Johannes lives in a different reality to Alyr:

The cartoon that led to Dad being hauled before the Human Rights Commission was not racist. ­Rather, it drew attention to an ­unpalatable truth about Aboriginal disadvantage, a truth that some people would prefer was not ­exposed or discussed.

 For this, Dad was subjected to a vicious campaign of online venom, outright libel by some media outlets and state-sanctioned harassment by the AHRC. He overstepped the PC line, a line that should never even exist in a free society.

Section 18C and the AHRC gave many people licence to ­accuse my Dad of the abhorrent crime of racism. Anybody who knew my Dad knows that he was the least racist person you could meet.

Update II: Lots of high priced time is being wasted on a complaint “so baseless it didn’t even make it to the Human Rights Commission because if it had section 18D would have given Bill Leak a watertight defence.”

Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs is expected to front the Senate ­tomorrow for a determination of whether she “misled” the chamber over the Bill Leak case and after an allegation by Attorney-General George Brandis that her organisation had turned into “some sort of Orwellian chamber”.

A special spill-over session of Senate estimates was arranged after several Coalition MPs ­expressed concern about Professor Triggs’ testimony to a parliamentary committee in Feb­ruary, when she claimed Leak’s lawyer had failed to respond to requests to justify his provocative cartoon, that was the subject of complaints under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

She said then that if “at least a simple statement” had been made, a four-month investigation into his cartoon — depicting an indigenous boy being handed over by the police to his father, who is drinking beer and has forgotten his son’s name — would have been “terminated much earlier”.

Independent senator Derryn Hinch also lodged a complaint with the committee’s chair, Liberal senator Ian Macdonald, when Leak’s lawyer, Justin Quill, rejected her evidence and produced correspondence detailing several defences The Australian’s editorial cartoonist wished to establish under section 18D of the act.

“This is the third occasion on which we’ve had to ask Professor Triggs to return and explain ­apparent misleading information,” Senator Macdonald said.

“I’m disappointed we have to do this again but it is clear from the evidence we have that there was a misleading of the Senate and I want Professor Triggs to explain.”

Triggs isn’t the only one who needs to explain misleading statements.


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