Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Ken Parish, Legal Eagle & Andrew Bolt on Australia's Aborigines

I have been working on a companion post to two blog stories. One was Ken Parish's Sorcery and the black Hatfields and McCoys on Club Troppo, the second Legal Eagle's Bolta, racism and free speech on Skepticslawyers.

Ken's post deals with the relationship between Aboriginal culture and modern Australian life, Legal Eagle's a case brought against Melbourne journalist Andrew Bolt under Victoria's anti-discrimination laws. Bolt said in part in one piece:

You see, Mellor and McMillan are representatives of a booming new class of victim you'd never have imagined we'd have to support with special prizes and jobs.

They are "white Aborigines" - people who, out of their multi-stranded but largely European genealogy, decide to identify with the thinnest of all those strands, and the one that's contributed least to their looks. Yes, the Aboriginal one now so fashionable among artists and academics.

This plus other comments lead to nine plaintiffs taking action against him

I read the posts plus comments and then looked at some of the other commentary. This lead me to feel that there was a degree of confusion, of the mixing together of different things. There was also a lack of knowledge of history. Neither is unusual in discussions on Aboriginal issues.

In saying this, I am not being critical of either Ken or LE or, indeed, most of the commenters. Ken, for example, has had long experience in dealing with the issues he discusses. I am just expressing a personal perception based on the totality of the discussion. 

The post that I started writing is an attempt to disentangle issues and to provide information. I found the post remarkably difficult to write, in part because I do have opinions, in part because the issues are complicated. 

I will bring the post up on Sunday as part of my Sunday Essay series. I am giving advance notice because this is a post on which I would be very interested to receive comments.  


Anonymous said...

It will be interesting to read your take on this Jim. For mine, the thought that Bolt's highly personalised commentary can be found acceptable under the guise of freedom of speech is unsettling.

For instance, while I might grin and bear a comment such as "all Chartered Accountants are lazy, under-qualified, thieving scoundrels" I would expect some redress if the comment was "kvd is a lazy, under-qualified thieving scoundrel". But that's just me - a non-lawyer - expecting to be treated fairly under the law; anticipating that such an attack might harm my future earning potential; assuming it would affect my reputation amongst my peers and my clients.

And I would have had a similar objection to Mr Parish's writings if he had personalised some of his comments - although even here, I note that you had to read the comments section before it became clear that Mr Parish was restricting his own comments to those indigenous people living remotely. Nothing in the main essay indicated that.


Jim Belshaw said...

Thoughtful comments, KVD. While I understand where Mr Bolt is coming from, his comments were personalised. In similar vein, you have picked up the NT bias in Ken's comments.

My personal view is that we need to lay down a base of facts rom which debate can proceed.

Anonymous said...

For me, the thought that Bolt's highly personalised commentary would not be found acceptable under the guise of freedom of speech is unsettling. The personalised nature of the comments may give rise to a defamation action, but that is not what he is being sued for. Reports say he is up for the unlawful behaviour provisions, which were hotly contested when they were brought in.
If you don't like what Bolt says, then argue against it as forcefully as you like, or maybe better still ignore him altogher. In my view either would be preferable to a court-ordered apology, which frankly is worthless. My gut feel from afar is that Bolt will get away with this one, on the basis that the conduct does not fall within the offence provisions, or that if it does, the comment defence might apply. We will see.

Anonymous said...

On my reading Bolt’s articles dealt with three things. One is a criticism of various grants and awards intended for aboriginal people which allow people with a relatively small amount of aboriginal blood (say, one eighth) to be able to claim these grants and awards, which are often funded by the taxpayer. It seems to me this is a reasonable point for debate, and of itself should not be found offensive on the ground of race.
The second is an attack, arguably of a personal nature, on the people named in his article, as having identified themselves as aborigines, either cynically or with improper motive, in order to obtain benefits. This may well also be a reasonable point for debate in the abstract, although may be defamatory of the individuals named.
The third is a comment about a culture of self-identifying culture of victimhood of which the fair-skinned winners of grants and awards is an example.
The first point does not strike me as offensive within the meaning of the Act, although the second and third go closer. Maybe the defences will come into play.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi anon

Thank you for your comments. I will respond a little later.

Jim Belshaw said...

Coming back to your comments, anon. I am assuming that it is the same anon!

Without being a lawyer, Bolt's comments are, I suspect, deeply defamatory. Bluntly, he seems to be accusing certain people of playing to the definition of Aboriginal to their own advantage.

That is the way I read it at a personal level. I can't sit inside his head, so I cannot say that that was his intent.

My interest, and the reason I linked the two posts in the way I did, lies not in the detail of the Bolt case but in the way that the posts and the comments suggest confusion about issues. Not issues of free speech, but those relating to our perceptions and treatment of Aboriginal people.

Your comments have helped me refine my thinking.

Anonymous said...


I was not going to comment further here, but I cannot resist making a couple of comments if you will allow:

1) Not off-topic, I assure, but I recently had the displeasure of watching my brother in law appear as the subject of the second item on the 7 p.m. ABC news - re the Christmas Island tragedy. He had been ordered to appear before the WA coroner, where he gave evidence at an "issues hearing". (btw I have quite deliberately not spoken with him on this issue since December) Now, I have no doubt he was asked questions; and I have no doubt he replied truthfully. But on the ABC, and many other news outlets his appearance was reported using the following: "he admitted", "he was forced to concede". I could not find anywhere reported that "he testified" or "he stated". Sometimes words are slippery, insidious, judgemental things.

2) Back to the Bolt case; I am perfectly happy to accept a concept of "freedom of speech" or, even indeed "freedom of the press" IF AND ONLY IF those thereby assaulted (accidently or deliberately) have an absolutely equivalent, immediate right of reply to exactly the same audience reach and size. Anything less is a complete farce.

Summary: Anyone who believes we have a right to free speech in this (or any) country is quite naive, and/or just plain deluded. Somewhere, sometime, the pretty lawyer-speak claiming that such a right exists will be seen for the complete and absolute sham it is.


Anonymous said...


Shorter version:

We have a press, and a class of "journalists" and opinion-makers who write for effect, not to inform. They hide behind a spurious claim of "freedom" which they deny by all possible means to those they harm.

And that, quite frankly, stinks.


Jim Belshaw said...

KVD wrote:

"We have a press, and a class of "journalists" and opinion-makers who write for effect, not to inform. They hide behind a spurious claim of "freedom" which they deny by all possible means to those they harm.

And that, quite frankly, stinks."

I have to agree. And, KVD, I was very interested in your Christmas Island comments.

Anonymous said...

It leaves me wondering if the obviously genuine aboriginal whom claimed sovereignty of England on behalf of the aboriginal people of Australia, and referred to White Skinned, Fair headed claimants as Shamrock Aborigines was also similarly prosecuted.

Anonymous said...

Handout assistance from the Federal Government to the direct descendents of the original people of Australia was designed to assist to alleviate existing disadvantage resulting from their Aboriginal appearance when attempting to assimilate into European culture. It was not designed to be a windfall bonanza for those whom appear to be more European than most of us.