An Australian Federal judge’s decision to find columnist Andrew Bolt guilty of “breaching national race laws” has been hailed as a victory for tolerance yet is likely to result in the exact reverse. A few hours ago, Federal Court Justice Mordy Bromberg ruled that fair-skinned Aborigines were likely to have been “offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations” in columnist Andrew Bolt’s two articles “It’s so hip to be black” and “White fellas in the black”, published in 2009. Bolt argued that light-skinned aborigines were gaming the system by claiming to be black when they appeared to be white.
One aboriginal leader said, “I believe the result means that Australia will have a higher quality and more responsible media and that to some degree the persecution of Aboriginal people in the press will be lessened.” Bolt for his part, described the verdict as “a terrible day for free speech in this country.” He may appeal the decision to the full bench.
In practical political terms the judge’s decision is likely to be a political disaster for both the aboriginal cause and left-wing politics in Australia, not only because there is a considerable body of private opinion that believes Bolt spoke the truth, but because the precedent, if extended, would apply to a great many articles that Australian pundits have already written, are about to write or are thinking of authoring. A survey of the headlines suggests that even journalists who hate Bolt regard the verdict as a unnecessary and gratuitous restriction on freedom of speech. A lot of people are thinking: “I could have said that or written it. That could be me”.
The timing of the decision could not have been worse. The Australian Labor Party has never been so unpopular, and its causes — like Global Warming and Multiculturalism — are deeply resented by an increasing number of voters. Every poll shows Labor sinking in surveys to almost unprecedented depths.
From a public relations point of view Justice Bromberg’s decision is likely to be as publicly popular as Jesse Jackson winning a libel case against Mark Steyn for suggesting that he has played the race card in the past. Far from being a victory for “multiculturalism”, such a finding would be positively inflammatory. It would remind everyone just how out of control the regime of political correctness had become.
Psychologically, the basic problem is that the underdog ain’t.
The implicit justification of all “hate speech” laws is to protect the downtrodden; and to win public sympathy there must be an obvious mismatch between the alleged defamer and the object of persecution. Both those elements are absent here. On the contrary it looks like a case of PC establishment using the law to punish someone for stating what appears to be blatantly true. As a result, every day that the Bolt case runs will be another reminder to voters of why they hate Labor and all its works and pomps. Although the decision went against the Andrew Bolt, it is the Gillard government which will bear the curse.
And every tongue, through utter drought,
Was withered at the root;
We could not speak, no more than if
We had been choked with soot.
Ah! well-a-day! what evil looks
Had I from old and young!
Instead of the cross, the Albatross
About my neck was hung.”
The ancient mariner was eventually freed from his albatross. But the Gillard government will wear it round their collars until an appeal removes it or a new election renders the issue moot.