Offensive and insulting?

On free speech and the right to offend in Australia.

Linday Burney is the first Aboriginal person to serve in the New South Wales Parliament, and in July this year became the first indigenous person to be elected to the Australian House of Representatives as a Member of Parliament.

Bernard Gaynor is an Australian who, according to he Twitter description,  is “pro-freedom, pro-family & pro-Australian”.  His website About:

Bernard Gaynor is a conservative Catholic who has the courage to speak up when politically-correct totalitarianism demands silence.

He is deeply interested in the loss of values in modern society and its impact on all aspects of life – particularly politics – and he is prepared to break all boundaries of political correctness to get his point across.

It looks like he is not a great fan of free speech and letting others get their point across. On Thursday he posted:

Yesterday, Federal Labor MP, Linda Burney stated:

“It astounds me that the people that are advocating for the removal of 18C are basically white men of a certain age that have never experienced racial discrimination in their life.”

These words are clearly racist and they make offensive and insulting connotations about white men. So I have lodged a complaint of racial vilification with the Australian Human Rights Commission. And I expect Gillian Triggs to take it seriously.

And Gaynor later posted about another complaint, by Paul Zanetti as reported in the  Australian:

Cartoonist Paul Zanetti, who was taken to the HRC for a cartoon in the Kalgoorlie Miner that made a similar political point to Leak’s and has been an avid campaigner against section 18C, yesterday lodged his own complaint.

Zanetti said he complained against Labor MP Linda Burney, who said people advocating the removal of 18C were “white men of a certain age that have never experienced racial discrimination in their life”.

Zanetti, who wants $10,000 in compensation, said he was ­offended as it was an untrue statement, noting he had been targeted as a “wog” because of his ethnic background.

This seems like a petty over-reaction, and Burney’s statement seems very mild to me, but there’s a lot more to this story.

Australians are debating reform (or not) of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

From The Conservation:

What’s all the fuss about?

The first thing to note is that it refers to a public (not private) act, including speech “that is likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group of people” and “the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin” of the person or persons.

Therefore, it prohibits some speech, made in public, based on certain features of a person’s identity.

Section 18C is limited in scope, and it would thus be wrong to claim that free speech carte blanche is under threat. It is, after all, a section of the Racial Discrimination Act, not “The Stop Anyone Being Offensive To Others Act”.

Offensive speech is alive and well in Australia

Roberts should be well aware of Section 18C’s limits because he has been free to make a number of deeply offensive remarks recently. He suggested climate change is a conspiracy among global bankers, who also manipulate the United Nations in an attempt to create a socialist world order.

Another example of free expression that offended many people was Bill Leak’s cartoon in The Australian last week. The cartoon differs from Roberts’ comments because it has very explicit racial content.

It’s been a controversial cartoon:


There are significant societal issues with Aborigines in Australia – and there’s a lot of racism as there as well.

Aborigines in general have struggled to adapt to the modern world, having been one of the most changed civilisations over the last fifty thousand years until being colonised just over two hundred years ago.

And Aborigines have generally been treated very poorly, often disgracefully, by those who took over their lands.

Even in this instance, however, the freedom to offend is secure. Section 18D of the act says “Section 18C does not render unlawful anything said or done reasonably and in good faith” or that is “held for any academic, artistic or scientific purpose, or any other genuine purpose in the public interest” or made in “a fair and accurate report” or “is an expression of a genuine belief held by the person making the comment”.

So, there are a great many exemptions to Section 18C that allow comments that might offend, insult, humiliate and even intimidate a person on the grounds of race, colour, national or ethnic origin. And we therefore don’t need to change it in order to be bigots.

The Leak cartoon takes a swipe at Aborigine naming, but how they are named is very different to modern Western naming conventions.

Your ancestor may have used or been known by many names throughout their life:

  • a traditional name
  • a kinship name
  • a European first name and/or surname, sometimes the name of the pastoral station where they worked
  • a nickname.

Their name may also have changed with marriage, partnerships, adoption or fostering.

It was common for people to use names that were different from the names they were given at birth. Even today family members might use a name that’s different from the one listed on official documentation.

I think that having a different family name to their official name is quite common. This doesn’t work with officialdom very well.

Sometimes people chose to change their names and used different names in different circumstances.

But often names were changed by employers or missionaries or when a child was removed to a foster home or training institution.

It is only recently that Westerners have adopted the practice of changing their names and using different names when they took to the Internet.

In this context the actions of Gaynor and Zanetti seem very petty and trivial.


Leave a comment


  1. Kitty Catkin

     /  12th November 2016

    There have been Aboriginal MPs before-there was Neville Bonner in the early 70s, who was the first, I believe.

  2. Pete: “It is only recently that Westerners have adopted the practice of changing their names and using different names when they took to the Internet.” Really? Come on – pen names for satirist and pamphlet writers etc has been a tradition in European society for donkeys years.

    As to the substantive issue.. 18C. people choose to be offended. Its been structured as a weapon targeting whites and white men… because we are all, whites, nasty horrible people and we have “power”, “privilege”, yada yada yada and deserve to be punished and coerced into “progressive” attitudes.

    Its bull its always been bull and it will continue to be bull henceforth. Are there racists? Yip. Do you need to create a weapon to attack everyone, a tool that can be used to suppress free speech? No you don’t – you used persuasion and dialogue.

  3. Gezza

     /  12th November 2016

    Matbe they should just delete the words offend and insult from s.18C and leave humiliate and intimidate in as being banned.Then everone can happily insult each other to their hearts’ content, call people plus sized teutons etc.

  4. patupaiarehe

     /  13th November 2016


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