Tuesday, 25 March 2014

You Are Right George

Over the last few days Senator George Brandis the Attorney General has stirred up a bit of a hornet’s nest with proposed changes to Australia’s anti-racism laws.

At the moment it is considered an offence to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate people on basis of race, religion, skin colour, ethnic origin etc. The proposed change removes the words offend, insult, humiliate while keeping intimidate and adding vilification - making hate speech or encouraging others to hate an offence.

According to George offending, insulting or humiliating people is an unavoidable repercussion of passionate debate and I agree with him. The law as it stands is way too broad which leads to it never being enforced. Removing those words and adding vilification will actually strengthen this law.

The other important thing that this change does is to protect our freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is far more important than people’s hurt feelings. I have had lots of controversial debates about politics, religion and all other subjects. Occasionally, people have taken offence, accused me of insulting them, even humiliating them.

I once knew a Mormon who had the mistaken belief that their church believed that homosexuals were evil and it was their duty to hate them. I had a chain of arguments with this person and even though I was an atheist I was able to convince her that her church actually had a much softer official line towards homosexuality than she believed. It was a great relief to her because she didn’t ever want to hate anybody. Now if I hadn’t been able to risk offending her or insulting her religion I may not have been able to get through to her and give her the advice she needed and eventually welcomed.

Our country continues to have problems when it comes to race. Look at the life expectancy gap between aboriginal and non-aboriginal Australians or the way that asylum seekers are treated. Laws that could possibly stifle debate are just plain stupid and counter-productive. There are debates on race that we need to continue to have if we are to fix the problems our country has. Some people will be offended, insulted maybe even humiliated. Unfortunately, that is just life.

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