and Anti-Vilification Laws
In 1995 the Federal Parliament passed the Racial Hatred Act. Similar laws had already been passed in New South Wales and Western Australia. Other states have subsequently introduced their own legislation.
The purported aim of this type of legislation is to prohibit the vilification, or conduct involving hatred, of people on the basis of their race, ethnicity or nationality. In New South Wales the legislation has been extended to prohibit vilification on other grounds such as ethno-religious background or homosexuality.
Despite claims to the contrary, this type of legislation constitutes, and was probably meant to constitute a form of censorship. Freedom to express opinions and disseminate information will be restricted or at the very least inhibited and distorted.
Similarly such legislation will be used in a way that discriminates on the basis of race and ethnicity. It's possible that this was an aim of many of the people and groups that supported it.
On the other hand neither the Racial Hatred Act or similar legislation will reduce the level of violence in the community. Most serious violence in Australia appears to be intra-racial rather than inter-racial and anti-vilification law is hardly likely to affect such violence.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody presented its report in 1991. The Commission had been set up to investigate the high number of deaths of Aboriginals in prison and police custody.
The Commission found that Aboriginal prisoners were no more likely to die in custody than other prisoners but that Aboriginals were much more likely to be arrested or imprisoned than non-Aboriginals(1).
The over-representation of Aboriginals was said to be due to their disadvantaged position in Australian society. This disadvantage was in turn said to be due to their dispossession and subordination by Europeans, the development of racist attitudes, and the control over Aboriginals by non-Aboriginals(2). Basically the Commission was shifting the blame for Aboriginal crime from the criminals themselves onto white Australians. This scapegoating of whites for the problems and inadequacies of blacks could reasonably be called vilification. It could be also be considered patronisingly racist towards Aborigines.
The Commission added to these absurdities by recommending anti-vilification legislation(3). In other words the Commission recommended legislation which if taken literally would have made the Commissions own findings illegal.
Another report that recommended anti-vilification legislation was the Inquiry into Racist Violence. This was a hopelessly biased report that looked at violence against minorities by white Australians. It claimed that such violence was largely committed by white Anglo youth. Violence between different minority groups was not considered and neither was violence against white Australians(4).
One could get the impression from the report that inter- racial violence almost always involved aggression by whites against minorities. What evidence there is however points to the opposite situation.
Figures collected in Western Australia indicate that most violent crime is intra-racial rather than inter-racial. That is the victim and the offender are, more often than not, of the same racial background. With inter-racial crime involving Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals it was found that in the majority of cases the Aboriginal was the offender and the non-Aboriginal was the victim. For instance in six out of nine cases of homicide involving Aboriginals and non-Aboriginals the victim was the non-Aboriginal. In 882 out of 945 cases of assault the offenders were Aboriginals and the victims were non-Aboriginals (5).
The Inquiry into Racial Violence seems to be blaming the victim and recommending legislation to enforce this blame.
Its noticeable that although anti-vilification law has been in force in New South Wales for almost a decade there has not been a reduction in violence. In 1994 for instance the murder rate was higher in that state than most other states and higher than the national average(6).
It is unlikely that race or ethnic relations will be improved by the Race Hatred Act or similar legislation. In fact the discriminatory way it works could probably serve to increase community tension.
As historical evidence is re-evaluated and new evidence is found our views on events of the past can alter considerably.
Over the last twenty years or so a number people have questioned the extent or even the occurence of the alleged Nazi extermination of Jews during World War 11. Some of Australian 'revisionists' have expressed concern that the Racial Hatred Act will be used to stifle research and discussion in this
At the time of writing no Australian had ended up in court. In some countries including France, Germany and Canada revisionists have not only had to fight legal proceedings but a few have even been jailed.
If any revisionist is prosecuted under Australia's Racial Hatred Act then the claim that the law is repressive and discriminatory will be vindicated.
There have been at times allegations that the media present a prejudiced view of some ethnic and racial minorities. In actual fact much ethnic crime is probably under-reported in the media. It actually appears at times that the media is more likely to give a negative and biased report if they are dealing with white Anglo Australians. An example of this was television coverage of a demonstration against anti-vilification law in Victoria by a small nationalist group called National Action. The television news referred to the group as Nazi's and failed to mention the real name of the group or the reason for the demonstration.
The Racial Hatred Act and similar laws passed by a number of states will not improve relations between various ethnic groups and will not reduce the level of violence in the Australian society. It will constitute a form of censorship and repress or seriously inhibit expression and thought in matters dealing with race such as multiculturalism and immigration. Rather than solving problems it will hinder the dissemination of ideas and quite likely hinder the chance of finding a solution to social problems.
It is extremely unlikely that this legislation will be applied equally to all Australians regardless of their race or ethnicity(8). Some groups will still suffer vilification without a serious chance of redress while other groups will be able to use the law to suppress ideas they find uncomfortable. This discrimination is likely to incite or exacerbate ethnic divisions.
The legislation is a serious affront to our democratic way of life. Ideas and information will not flow as freely as they should in a democracy. Free choice without free access to facts and opinions is not really a choice at all.
The Racial Hatred Act is repressive, divisive and discriminatory. It must be repealed.
1. Aboriginal Deaths in Custody - Overview of Responses by Governments to the Royal Commission, 1992, p. 5
2. Ibid., p. 5
3. Aboriginal Deaths in Custody - Response by Governments to the Royal Commission, Volume 2, 1992, p. 820
4. I. Moss, Inquiry into Racist Violence, 1991, p. 289 - 292, p. 478 - 535
5. R.W. Harding, R. Broadhurst, A. Ferrante and N. Loh, Aboriginal Contact With the Criminal Justice System - and the Impact of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody,
1995, p. 28 - 31
6. ABS National Crime Statistics - 1995, p. 14
7. Adelaide Institute Newsletter, 58, July, 1997, p. 5
8. "Have Your Say - Letters Page", National Action News, 23, September - October 1995, p. 3
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody - Overview of the Responses by Governments to the Royal Commission, Canberra, A.G.P.S. 1992
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody - Response by Governments to the Royal Commission, Volume 2, Canberra, A.G.P.S. 1992
Adelaide Institute Newsletter, Norwood, S.A., 58, July 1997
Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Crime Statistics - 1995, Catalogue No. 4510.0
Harding, R.W., Broadhurst, R., Ferrante, A. and Loh, N. Aboriginal Contact With the Criminal Justice System - and the Impact of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Sydney, The Hawkins Press, 1995
"Have Your Say - Letters Page", National Action News, 23, September-October 1995
Moss, I. Inquiry into Racist Violence, Human Rights and Equal Oppportunity Commission, Canberra, A.G.P.S. 1991