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Sunday 23 July 2017

Opinion

My Submission To The Govt's Section 18C And Freedom Of Speech Inquiry

Paul Zanetti Thursday 8 December 2016



Tomorrow's the deadline for submissions to get rid of the repressive Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights is considering two matters:

  • whether the operations of Pat IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (including sections 18C and 18D) impose unreasonable restrictions on freedom of speeech; and
  • whether the complaints-handling procedures of the Australian Human Rights Commission should be reformed.

I've just sent my submission off. For me Section 18C is both a personal and professional sore point, having been made to explain myself to the Australian Human Rights Commission over a cartoon I drew 7 years ago.

It's not only cartoonists or opinion writers who should be concerned. Everyone who has a Facebook account, or who posts anywhere online, is at risk of being sued, as the QUT students learned when one posted 'Stopping segregation with segregation'.

The link for submissions is at: http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Joint/Human_Rights_inquiries/FreedomspeechAustralia

This an important inquiry for everyone who believes in the right to Free speech. The more submissions, the bigger the chance we can lance this politically correct rubbish law.

Bit by bit we can fight to get our country back from the totalitarians.

The report will be handed down on 28 February, 2017

My submission


Committee Secretary                                                                                   6 December 2016
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights
PO Box 6100,
Parliament House
Canberra ACT 2600


Thank you for the opportunity to make a submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights in regard to Sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (RDA).

I come to this inquiry from a personal and professional perspective.

I’m a cartoonist, commenting daily on matters of national issues. The essential requirement for political and social commentary is the freedom to speak, write or draw without fear or favour. Satire has been an essential part of the commentary and character of our country for over a century.

Over that time, laughing at institutions, our elected leaders and ourselves - or to take a moment to consider a poignant point in a cartoon – has become institutionalised in our media.

Today that basic freedom is under threat - by Sections 18c and 18D of the RDA.

Readers once freely, instinctively and naturally laughed at, or occasionally thought pensively about, a cartoon’s message. But today readers are encouraged to take offence by a government institution.

Once offence is (too easily) taken, the reader is invited to commence legal action against the cartoonist.

The process has been set up so anybody can easily fill out an online form in a matter of minutes, resulting in a legal and financial nightmare for the hapless cartoonist.

The quick and easy complaint form can be found here :

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints/make-complaint/complaint-form

Litigants are encouraged by the AHRC website that:

It does not cost anything to make a complaint to the Commission.

Link:

https://www.humanrights.gov.au/complaints/complaint-guides/making-complaint/complaints-under-racial-discrimination-act

The online form takes around 5 minutes to complete and submit.

Once this free, quick and easy online form is submitted, the cartoonist is entangled in a web of legal and financial complexities and stress. The process is designed to intimidate and suppress free speech. 

The cartoonist is hauled in front of the Commission to explain him or herself.

It’s the worst of totalitarianism where an artist or opinion maker must defend his or her views, no matter how well meaning the views might be.

Fellow cartoonist Bill Leak, who was also recently the target of a complaint under section 18C of the RDA, most accurately described this process as being rounded up by the goon squad from The Ministry Of Truth.
 

In my case, in 2009, I drew a cartoon highlighting the plight of aboriginal children, abused by their own communities. I drew the cartoon in response to a disturbing finding regarding indigenous kids.

On 2 July 2009 The Productivity Commission released its Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2009 Report.

Several notable and leading Australians at the time, including the Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, made public statements in response to the high level of abuse and neglect for indigenous children, fuelled by alcohol and drugs.

From the Report:

Many Indigenous families and communities live under severe social strain, caused by a range of social and economic factors. This social strain, combined with factors such as alcohol and substance misuse, and overcrowded living conditions, can contribute to the incidence of child abuse and violence.

This indicator provides some information about the extent of abuse, neglect and harm to children in the family environment. However, the available data refers only to matters which have been notified to the authorities and investigated. No data exist on actual levels of abuse.

The rate of substantiated notifications for child abuse or neglect increased for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous children from 1999-2000 to 2007-08, with the rate for Indigenous children more than doubling over this period.

      the rate for Indigenous children increased from 16 to 35 per 1000 children

      the rate for non-Indigenous children increased from 5 to 6 per 1000 childre 

Indigenous children were more than six times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be the subject of a substantiation of abuse or neglect in 2007-08

A week prior to the Report’s release, on 2 June 2009, pop singer Michael Jackson unexpectedly died.

Around the time of the release of the Productivity Commission Report, online, TV and newsprint reports highlighted the fate of Michael Jackson’s children, the beneficiaries of his wealth, living in luxury with the support of a large family and a concerned community. 

I felt this national (and international) attention was disproportionate and decided to draw a simple visual commentary highlighting this perverse concern. The welfare and interest of our own indigenous kids was my primary motive.

On 4 July 2008 I drew a cartoon for national syndication with an aboriginal child hiding behind a tree, and an abusive father with a bottle of alcohol and a plank of wood walking around behind the tree. The child is holding a newspaper with the headlines: WHO WILL TAKE CARE OF MICHAEL JACKSON’S CHILDREN?

Shortly afterwards, I was notified by the editor of one of the newspapers that published the cartoon, John Horner of the Kalgoorlie Miner in WA, that the newspaper had been notified by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that the newspaper and the cartoon were the subject of a complaint under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

John Horner said the complainant was a ‘serial pest’ making a compensation claim for $10,000 over the cartoon. This wasn’t his first complaint.

John Horner also proudly said that the Kalgoorlie Miner had a strong record of covering indigenous affairs, in support of the indigenous community and so the complaint about the cartoon was not reflective of the paper’s policies of indigenous issues. I live in Queensland, not WA, so I don’t read the Kalgoorile Miner, so I accepted that.

I asked John Horner what his personal view was on the cartoon. He replied he absolutely agreed with it so he would be defending the right to publish the cartoon because it was both truthful and ‘fair comment’. He said he would not have published the cartoon had he believed it was not accurate.

I was asked to assist with the publisher’s lawyers and submitted an explanation as to why I drew the cartoon, which was for the aforementioned reasons. The management and lawyers funded and handled the complaint response and defense. There was little further input from me.

At times I would enquire with John Horner how the complaint was progressing and he would advise me the conciliation process was ongoing,

This went on for 2 years and was settled in 2011, on the advice of the lawyers who warned that a failure to conciliate or settle would result in termination of the complaint at the AHRC at which time an expensive and possibly lengthy legal battle would commence with no certainty.

Despite the so-called exemptions in Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act, the publication was not able to rely on this defense, even though the cartoon met all its exempt provisions. I was unaware of the terms of the settlement.

For this reason Section 18D is a farce, which does not protect free speech, as it should.

The AHRC seemingly failed to advise the complainant that his complaint did not pass the exemption of 18D nor did the commission administer the Act competently. Post settlement, John Horner only advised me the complaint had settled and the complainant did not get his $10,000 claim.

It wasn’t until several weeks ago I learned that the newspaper had in fact agreed to terms of settlement.

I was advised of the terms of settlement on 21 October 2016, some five years after settlement, from Chris Merritt, the legal affairs reporter for The Australian newspaper who had interviewed Bob Cronin the Editor-In-Chief of WA Newspapers, owner of the Kalgoorlie Miner while Chris Merritt was investigating my case for a news article.

Chris Merritt was drawing a similar parallel between my own case and the infamous Bill Leak cartoon case, also highlighting the welfare of indigenous children, and subsequently also become a subject of Section 18C of the racial Discrimination Act.

Bob Cronin told Chris Merritt the paper agreed only to two concessions to settle.

1. The newspaper would hire an aboriginal cadet reporter. They looked for over a year in all the journalism schools but could not find any who had enrolled.

2. The staff at the Kalgoorlie Miner would receive regular counseling from a visiting aboriginal elder about drawing cartoons with aborigines - even though the cartoon was not drawn by any of the staff in the WA newsroom, but by me in Queensland. Being the person who drew the cartoon I was never notified, consulted nor counseled about what I could or could not draw, not that I would have taken any notice. This term of settlement singularly highlights the farcical uselessness of this process.

I didn’t learn any of this from the AHRC. I was never contacted by the AHRC, despite being the sole person responsible for the cartoon. 

To add further to the dishonesty, deceit and incompetence of the AHRC, several days later Greg Brown, another reporter for The Australian, who was doing a follow up to the story, contacted me. 

Greg Brown told me he had looked up my case at the AHRC website and found that the Kalgoorlie Miner had apologised for running the cartoon. That was again news to me.

Greg Brown called Bob Cronin to confirm this public apology. Cronin vehemently denied any agreement to apologise or publication of an apology. This was simply invented by the AHRC.

That untruth by the ‘Ministry of Truth’ still stands today,

Today, the depressingly punitive sections 18C and Section 18D still stand.

Since my experience, two other cartoonists I’m aware of have been hauled before the AHRC under section 18C to explain their work – the aforementioned Bill Leak of The Australian and Dean Alston of the West Australian.

Sections 18C, even with the provision of the unworkable 18D, is anti free-speech and anti-human rights.

It’s also a contravention of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights - a founding document of the UN – which states that; 

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

For this reason alone, Sections 18C and its flawed 18D (non) exemption must go.

I call on the Committee to recommend to the parliament the repeal of Sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Paul Zanetti