Months spent on a parliamentary inquiry set up by the Turnbull government to look at what needs to be done with Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 have produced precisely nothing.
The key issue for the Inquiry – and the first of its Terms of Reference – was whether the law “imposes unreasonable restrictions upon freedom of speech.” If so, what reform was needed?
One proposal was that the notorious words “insult” and “offend” in 18C should be replaced by one word: harass. Not so hard, you’d think. But too hard for the pollies whose job it was to decide.
In the end, and after sifting through 12,000 submissions – many of them the result of a taxpayer-funded multicultural industry campaign – the inquiry opted for the easiest approach: do nothing.
Instead we are to be distracted by a whole series of peripheral issues, such as the efficiency of the Human Rights Commission and whether complaints to the HRC are dealt with in a timely way.
All very interesting, no doubt; but the QUT students, punished because of a silly online spat, or cartoonist Bill Leak, punished for doing his job, are not angry about efficiency. They are angry about injustice.
The Greens, the ALP, and some Coalition members really do believe 18C is all that stands between us and a turgid outpouring of racist abuse leading to total civil collapse.
With a party-room split looming, the Coalition wants to spin the Inquiry’s report as a plan to reform the Human Rights Commission and impose fees before a complaint can be lodged.
Is no one listening to the ordinary voters? Ray Hadley certainly seems to have our backs. When Inquiry member Julian Leeser MP tried to dodge the 18C question, Hadley gave him a red-hot roast.
Having voted against repealing or reforming 18C, Leeser then tried to insist that he wasn’t agreeing with the Greens of the ALP: they were agreeing with him. Theologians do that kind of thing well.
Poor Julian – a thoroughly decent bloke, I might add – took both barrels from Hadley. Leeser and friends just don’t get it: it is free speech that matters to us, not the efficiency of the HRC.
The ‘progressive’ political class insists 18C stops us being ‘racists’. Yet the pub test tells us it is nonsense: instead, anyone claiming to be offended can use 18C to shut down public debate.
Tony Abbott dropped the ball on 18C but promises he’d do it differently next time. And Malcolm Turnbull is torn between the social conservatives in his party and his own progressive views.
One reason people voted for Trump, and in Australia will vote for Pauline Hanson – polls have her support at 10 per cent – is that they are sick of being told what they can’t say.
The political class loves talking to itself. But come election time, remember it’s the ordinary voters who give them their jobs in the first place.
Peter Kurti is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Independent Studies