The Humbug Martyrdom of Andrew Bolt

A Peculiarly Australian Cause Celebre

In one of the less nebulous sections of the Liberals’ curiously fisk-resistant manifestoi, you’ll find this special promise for Andrew Bolt and his fans and supporters:

Protecting freedom of speech – supporting an open media

We will protect the media from over-regulation; support an open and accountable media; and protect the freedom of speech to strengthen our vibrant democracy…

  • We will support freedom of speech, particularly in relation to anti-discrimination legislation. Prohibitions on inciting racial hatred or intimidation of particular groups should be focused on offences of incitement and causing fear but not a prohibition on causing offence.

At the April 4 IPA shindig where Rupert Murdoch preached his sermon on the morality of the market, Abbott made the promise quite explicit; Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act (S18C) would be repealed and once more Andy will be free to write whatever he likes, about whomever he likes, regardless of race, creed, colour or a conspicuous and unseemly lack thereof.

The cause celebre which has inspired this passion for freedom of speech – especially on Andrew Bolt’s part – is that Bolt was ‘convicted’ by Justice Mordecai Bromberg in the Federal Court of having ‘committed’ an unlawful act under S18C. As causes celebre go it’s a peculiarly Australian one, as shonky as a Liberal Commission of Audit reportii. Bolt is certainly no Alfred Dreyfus He’s no John Proctor either – if you want a literary archetype, Bolt’s more your Archie Costello.

L’Affaire Bolt is the product of misunderstanding, misrepresentation and self-aggrandisement. John Birmingham – no fan of Bolt – provides a good example of the widespread misunderstanding of the case in this article published shortly after Justice Bromberg made his judgement in the case:

…The conviction of Andrew Bolt under racial vilification laws. Everyone assumed, rightly, I’d be champing at the bit to hook into the issue of m’unlearned colleague. But probably not in the way you’d expect.

I don’t see the conviction of Bolt as a triumph.

Why?

Because Bolt is the sort of oxygen thief I revel in vilifying…

…Bringing the full force of the state to bear on the likes of Bolt does not change his opinions or the opinions of the cretins who cheer him on. Decisions like last week’s simply feed into their persecution complexes…

In fact, the full force of the state wasn’t brought to bear on Bolt – the action against Bolt was a civil action, brought by Pat Eatock – not the executive government or any arm of Federal law enforcement. The various media reports that Bolt had been found ‘guilty’ of racial vilification and the commentary based on such reporting – such as Birmingham’s – bought into the persecution complexes of Bolt and his supporters who rallied to him like a gaggle of geese flocking to the war-honk of their alpha gander.

The hearing before Bromberg J was not a criminal trial and so didn’t warrant news coverage – or partisan commentary – using terms such as ‘convicted’, ‘guilty’ and so on. The only criminal offences created by the Racial Discrimination Act – in part IV – relate to the administration of the Act. S27 defines a range of offences to protect complainants under the act from harassment, intimidation, and coercion; S27F makes it an offence for Human Rights Commissioners and their staff to divulge private information about members of the public. The status of all the other unlawful acts created by the RDA is spelt out in S26 of the Act:

SECT 26

Unlawful acts not offences unless expressly so provided

Except as expressly provided by this Part, nothing in this Act makes it an offence to do an act or agree with another person to do an act that is unlawful by reason of a provision of Part II or Part IIA.

And that’s it – the whole of S26 of the act. While Bolt’s actions were deemed unlawful under S18C of the act, he committed no criminal offence.

The effect of S18C (according to some seriously expert legal advice I obtained on 27 May) is to create a statutory tort. Which is what landed Bolt in the Federal Court – not government suppression of his right to free speech but action by a private citizen seeking legal redress for a breach of civil duty.

What Bolt is defending, with the complicity of his allies isn’t freedom of speech; it’s a set of special, personal freedoms described very accurately by John Birmingham:

His freedom to insult. His freedom to slander. His freedom to wound and belittle. His freedom to do all this in the face of facts and truths he cannot be bothered getting off his soft, white, privileged arse to verify in the first placeiii.

Not your freedom of speech, or my freedom of speech; not our freedom of speech but Andrew Bolt’s freedom to slander others in the secure knowledge that, at worst, he might get a bit of a ticking off if he lands his employer with a defamation claim that can’t be settled out of the legal department’s petty cash tin. That’s a special kind of freedom – you’ll find it listed in the dictionary as privilege – a right, advantage, or immunity belonging to a person, class or office.

Deprived of that particular privilege, Bolt has cultivated an air of martyrdom, with frequent posts on his blog about a certain subject he’d like to discuss but can’t, because of legal advice. My guessiv is that the legal advice comes from the most junior member of The Hun’s legal department who’s been given the thankless task of doing for Andrew what Andrew ought to be capable of doing for himself with the help of a little common decency and personal integrity.

Bolt’s complaints remind me of nothing so much as the peevish whining of an adolescent boy whose 3G mobile phone has been confiscated after his parents were informed that he’d been posting malicious rumours about his schoolmates on Facebook. A behaviour that’s the subject of another promise in the Liberal Party manifesto:

Delivering better cyber safety for families

We will work together with social media operators, schools, parents and children to tackle cyber bullying and other harmful material and behaviour targeted at children online.

It’s not a promise that amounts to much more than lip service but it’s a clear indication of the a familiar old double standard that’s in play here. It’s not acceptable for the kiddies to use the internet to bully their schoolmates but it is acceptable for a News Limited journalist to use the methods of the cyberbully on his political enemies.

The Liberal Party’s manifesto, Tony Abbott’s promise to Bolt, his employer Rupert Murdoch and his patron Gina Rinehart in his IPA speech and the hectoring conduct of Shadow Attorney General, Senator George Brandis, towards Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Human Rights Commission, in Senate Estimates are all signs of the kind of governance we can expect if Tony Abbott succeeds in selling himself as the very model of modern Aussie Prime Minister. It’s an ugly prospect.

Postscript: it’s very unlikely, in my opinion, that any attempt to change to Racial Discrimination Act to make racial vilification of the kind practiced by Bolt an actual criminal offence would survive a High Court challenge.

iThe PDF version of the Liberal’s election manifesto I downloaded off their site a few weeks ago was created as a very secure document indeed. The security settings prohibit copying the document’s contents and pasting them into another application. Much as I’m disinclined to embrace conspiracy theories that’s just too damn weird to accept as a cock-up. It suggests that the Libs know just how ridiculous their policy platform is and have done all they can to protect it from on-line ridicule.

iiPlease refrain from commenting on the ‘scare quotes’ until you’ve finished reading the next eight paragraphs.

iiiI figure this is safe to quote since it must have been ‘legalled’ by Fairfax before it was published.

ivLet’s be quite clear – this is not in any way an assertion of fact. It’s pure speculation and not entirely unreasonable.

Appendix: A Bleg

This post is attracting a lot of traffic – enough to cause problems for the Ozblogistan server and interfere with other Ozblogistan sites. If your blog isn’t hosted at Ozblogistan please feel free to syndicate this post under a Creative Commons Licence. It might lift enough of the load so I can stop worrying about any the mutterings of ‘Bloody Gummo – let him onto your blog and what does he do – just pulls down the bloody server, that’s all!’

Oops! Bad brain day with 100% chance of early afternoon loss of perspective. Outlook for tomorrow – improved.

About Paul Bamford (aka Gummo T)

Gummo Trotsky is the on-line persona of Paul Bamford. Paul recently placed his intellect at risk of finally becoming productive by enrolling in a Lemonade, Lime & Bitters degree via distance education. He also plays the piano but Keith Jarrett he ain't.
This entry was posted in Journalism, Media, Politics - national, Society, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.
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observa
observa
8 years ago

..it’s a clear indication of the double standard that’s in play. It’s not acceptable for the kiddies to use the internet to bully their schoolmates but it is acceptable for a News Limited journalist to use the methods of the cyberbully on his political enemies.

If you’re saying lefties are kiddies in need of some adult supervision and oversight then you’ve got this personal responsibility, free will, sticks and stones, individualist in somewhat of a moral dilemma.

nottrampis
8 years ago

Very good Gummo.

Definitely in Around the Traps this week

observa
observa
8 years ago

Well by yesterday arvo around the traps (flicking on the radio while travelling around) the consensus seemed to be 2 Wongs dont make it White. Even Aunty had some lettered shrink babbling on about PTS for 13 yr old schoolgirls, the need for ongoing psych counselling, yada, yada and for balance some all aboriginals as victims prof countering with aboriginal incarceration rates and a 2 hr police grilling is nothing and get over it. By the time the 5AA Footy Show was on there was Rowie parrotting the usual discalimer about how we all abhor racism, yada, yada BUT do we really want AFL footballers stopping the game every 5 mins to get officials to chuck out fans they find offensive? Over to you Demetriou, Pat O’shane, et al.

Well Gummo, if you’re going to set up your Racial, Religious, Sexual Vilification Acts and barrack for certain prosecutions by those you deem omniscient about such matters, you’ll end up cheering the prosecution of Danny Nalliah, while ignoring the behead those who insult Islam sign wavers, homophobics and female head coverers and stand resolutely and absolutely with any suntanned AFL professional footballer playing the victim against a 13 yr old schoolgirl oppressor. While you might like pale skinned aboriginals or suntanned whites to use the resources of the taxpayer at their disposal to shutup the Bolts, Blairs and Nalliahs, I might like my mob when they get their hands on the public purse to lock up or fine some of your mates.

No, for me it’s publish or utter and be damned and stcks and stones, because anything else leads to tyranny by well meaning elites and simply drives the ‘offensive of the times’ underground and I’d rather they were all upfront and out in the sunlight where we can keep an eye on them. The minority as victim, majority as oppressor paradigm is too black and white for mine and leads to some ugly tradeoffs in values far too often. It’s about manners but also about not having tin ears when it suits.

observa
observa
8 years ago

..and Gummo, what the Hell did you expect Bolty to do but not play the victim once the usual suspects shut him up with your precious ‘offence’ Laws? If you don’t want your ideological opponents stealing the Left’s victim/oppressor thunder then don’t go there dummies.

nottrampis
8 years ago

Gummo you are going overboard me thinks.

settle down

Patrick
Patrick
8 years ago

When we say we support free speech, we’re actually saying something very imprecise.

Only because English is imprecise. I really really doubt that there are any more than a faint minority of people who every understand the term “free speech” to mean “speech without consequences”. I’m pretty sure that it is pretty (very) widely heard to mean “speech without risk of state persecution”, as Aly eventually gets to working out.

David Walker
David Walker
8 years ago

Section 18C outlaws certain types of speech and writing so long as they are reasonably likely to offend some people, and as long as the utterances in question are said or written because of those people’s race. It’s essentially a special sort of racial defamation that’s easier for plaintiffs to prove.

I get that you don’t like Andrew Bolt, but the real question remains, Gummo: Do you think that this law is a good one, and if so, why?

(Note that if section 18C didn’t exist, Bolt could still have been sued for defamation, almost certainly successfully in my view.)

Gummo Trotsky
Gummo Trotsky
8 years ago

A note to observa and anyone who’s read his latest comment in this thread and is wondering where it’s gone. I removed and trashed it for the simple reason that I am no longer prepared to tolerate his habitual incivility and disrespect towards either myself – and most especially myself – or any other commenter on any issue whom he regards as a misguided PC leftist.

The comment, as is usual with observa’s comments, consisted of a long rant of mostly irrelevant guff, inept attempts at satire, and a rather grotesquely imaginitive depection of social life with Mrs O. A character I am inclined to assume is fictional. His concluding paragraph will give you an indication of the tone of the whole piece:

The Goodes incident has crystallised it all and if you want me to explain why Eddie McGuire is now a carcase swinging in the breeze I will later, your permission granted and then you can dump me in the trash for good if you like. I’d be the last person to deny your private property rights to freely discriminate here or later.

Well obby, as far as any future posts I write you are already dumped in the trash for good. I consider it likely that you will nonetheless persist, at least for a little while, in attempting to comment on my posts on the assumption that in putting you into moderation I have unthinkingly granted you the perfect opportunity to needle and insult me privately without your behaviour being exposed to public scrutiny. If that happens I will give your comments all the consideration I think due to the opinions of someone whose good opinion is of absolutely no worth to me.

nottrampis
8 years ago

Sorry Gummo but I disagree quite a bit with that decision.

It seems to me thin skins are in order here at Club Troppo.

I read it and he disagrees with you. So what!

If what he says is stupid then let it parade for everyone to see.

I only delete comments that are foul and abusive or constantly make allegations without ever putting any evidence.

Observa did neither of these two things.

Having said that this is not my blog however I do believe it would be beter if you and others took a far more liberal view towards people’s views!

nottrampis
8 years ago

I agree we agree to disagree. A pity you are wrong.

What is happening to the site. It almost always say Ozblogistan is broken