The Right To Be An Asshat
When I was a kid, I was not allowed to go trick or treating at Halloween, because my dad was of the opinion that Halloween and Trick or Treating itself was ‘too American’ and was contributing to the ‘Americanisation’ of Australian culture. I watched the other kids go trick or treating from the front porch. (I know, boohoo right? First world problems and all that)
I could not, as a kid, wrap my head around his logic though. Because that same year, my uncle had come back from a visit to the states and had brought us back Mickey Mouse ears from Disneyland which we were super excited about (well, I was) and wasn’t that ‘Americanisation’ too? But that seemed ok? And at that point in the 80’s if you had a pair of Reeboks? You were IT. Playground untouchable. The coolest of the cool. Maybe he had a point though, because the amount of Australians I come across, particularly online who will proudly proclaim that we are constitutionally guaranteed free speech is astounding. After hearing it from various movies and TV Shows, all made in America, for years, they believe it. Our constitution has no such right. Our High Court has said we have an ‘implied’ right to Free Speech, but it is not written into our constitution. It is not guaranteed by law in Australia at all. But we seem to have this weird thing happening at the moment where some people, including our government, think that if you repeat something often enough, then it becomes totally true!
One such catch phrase around Australia of late, is the now infamous time one of our Senators declared that people have ‘the right to be a bigot’. He did so as he was agreeing that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act ought to be repealed. 18C is the section which makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person or a group of people” on the basis of race. Section 18D adds that if those comments or actions are made as an “expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment” then they are exempt. Another one doing the rounds is ‘you have to hear both sides’ or ‘you have to look at both sides’ and ‘i have the right to present my side’. It’s generally coupled with ‘I have the right to an opinion’. The overall theme however is that all of these things seem to be being trotted out by Hanson supporters, far right commentariat, white nationalist groups, and christian lobby groups. Is that because they are lacking in a platform from which to espouse their views? Given i find them in the papers, and online almost every day without even wanting to see them, no. But the thing is, and how can I put this in the most Australian way possible…
Even if we agree to a persons right to free speech, a persons right to be a bigot, a person’s right to an opinion, and a person’s right to present the other side, you know what you DON’T have the right to?
An audience. You can have all the bigotry and hatred and racism you like, but I don’t have to listen to it. You do not have the right to my attention and consideration. You don’t have the right to anyone else’s either.
And you should you be fortunate enough to have someone grace you with their time and presence, to give you audience — you don’t have the right to a shield from any criticism of those views. If you get to have an opinion, then so do I. So do others. No one is allowed to physically punish you for your views, but criticizing your actions and your words, and pointing them out for what they are, is not the same as throwing you to the ground and kicking you in the ribs, no matter how much some may carry on otherwise. If you have the right to be a bigot, someone has the right to call you one. If you have the right to spouse racist rhetoric, people have the right to call you a racist. You don’t get to spout off about how indigenous Australians should all be put on welfare cards, then act mortally offended because someone called you racist, as if an accurate factual description of the views you hold, is somehow the worst thing anyone can be called.
The government criticizes the Greens for walking out on Pauline Hanson’s maiden speech, but won’t hear a single mention of how many of their own party walked out or refused to be present when Kevin Rudd made an apology to the Stolen Generation. If someone singles out an entire group of people for negative attention and stereotypes them all, the government doesn’t then get to say ‘you can’t call them bigots, it’s rude’. If every media outlet in the country runs stories on Sam Dastyari, and the government calls for his head over $1600 that was declared, then I damn sure want to be reading all about the rolexes and the scholarships that weren’t declared. THAT doesn’t get to be shoved under the carpet.
Either Australian Media actually bothers reporting things across the board, or they should cease with this illusion of ‘fair’s fair, we have to hear both sides’. Either the rules apply across the board to everyone, or they don’t. Either we have rules surrounding respectful discourse in this country, or we don’t. But if we don’t, and it’s to be a free for all, then understand — there is nowhere left to hide. No one has to pay you any attention, or listen to a word you have to say. If you can say what you like as long as it’s a “genuinely held belief”, then so can everyone else, even if you don’t like it. Even I can.
I genuinely believe that if George Brandis and a shetland pony were both drowning and I could only save one, I would ride that furry little four legged bastard off into the sunset without even a second thought.
It raises the question, really. Does 18C exist for the protection of those who may be offended by the speech it disallows? Or is it, in reality, for the protection of those who would be the sort to spout such speech, a protection from themselves, and (god forbid) being held accountable for it.
Maybe we should just rename it the ‘dickhead clause’.