On Saturday night Tony Abbott announced what the Liberals in government proposed to do about the Andrew Bolt case. This morning it was reported in The Australian
The plan, which has been unveiled by Tony Abbott, promises that a Coalition government would repeal the key provisions that led a Federal Court judge to order a correction to what he said were Bolt’s unlawful articles.
Opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis told The Australian the Coalition would remove the provisions in the act that prohibit the use of words that offend or insult.
“We consider that to be an inappropriate limitation on freedom of speech and freedom of public discussion — as was evident in the Andrew Bolt case,” Senator Brandis said.
“Offensive and insulting words are part of the robust democratic process which is essential to a free country.”
They would strengthen the defences and give community standards a central role in determining liability, instead of giving priority to the views of people who say they have been vilified.
That article gives a very misleading impression of what the Liberals intend to do. What Abbott said on Saturday night was that a Liberal government would remove the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from section 18c of the Race Discrimination Act but would retain the rest of the section and would strengthen the defences in section 18d. In other words the Liberals would retain race-based rights in the law.
This is a minimalist approach to the problem – a judge would still be able to convict Andrew Bolt with an appropriately drafted judgement. It also presumes that the problem in the Bolt case is a poorly drafted piece of legislation – true – but that judicial activism and political opportunism had nothing to do with it. The problem isn’t a poorly worded section but the philosophy that individuals can and should be defined by race.
The IPA has just launched a Repeal 18C campaign. There you’ll find email addresses for Julia Gillard, Bob Brown, and Tony Abbott.