Why Can’t I Be Free To Speak?

Posted on Thu 09/29/2011 by


Andrew BoltBy Andrew Bolt

It’s time we put aside racial and ethnic divisions. As multicultural Australia strives for harmony, these distinctions merely reinforce existing barriers.

I am the son of Dutch parents who came to Australia the year before I was born.

For a long time, I have felt like an outsider here, not least because my family moved around so very often.

You know how it is when you feel you don’t fit in. You look for other identities, other groups, to give you a sense of belonging, and perhaps some status.

So for a while I considered myself Dutch, and even took out a Dutch passport.

Later I realised how affected that was, and how I was borrowing a group identity rather than asserting my own. Andrew Bolt’s.

So I chose to refer to myself as Australian again, as one of the many who join in making this shared land our common home.

Yet even now I fret about how even nationality can divide us.

To be frank, I consider myself first of all an individual, and wish we could all deal with each other like that. No ethnicity. No nationality. No race. Certainly no divide that’s a mere accident of birth.

So that’s the background to the calamity that hit me yesterday.

That’s why I believe we can choose and even renounce our ethnic identity, because I have done that myself.

But I also believe that many people now increasingly do insist on asserting racial and ethnic identities, and that we increasingly spend money and pass laws to entrench them.

I think that a terrible pity, even a danger, because surely in a multi-ethnic community like ours it’s important to stress what unites us, not what divides.

As you might know, I have argued against this trend. For instance, and this is what brought me to the court, I have written about what seems to me an increasing trend of people to identify as Aboriginal, when even their looks loudly suggest they have ancestry drawn from many “races” or ethnicities, especially European.

In two columns in particular – and that’s where this misery started – I wrote about people who, it seemed to me, had other options than to call themselves, without qualification or hyphens, “Aboriginal”.

They included nine fair-skinned Aborigines who responded not with public arguments, but with a legal action in the Federal Court to have my articles banned forever, and me prevented from ever again writing something similar.

I’m talking about people such as an Aboriginal lawyer whose father was British, an Aboriginal activist whose own sister identified as non-Aboriginal, and an Aboriginal writer whose father was born in Austria.

In those articles I wrote that I did not question the genuineness of their identification.

I did not even go as far as did Professor Larissa Behrendt, one of those who took me to court, who nine years ago declared that the definition of Aboriginality needed to be tightened, or “you run the risk of having the parameters stretched to the ludicrous point where someone can say: ‘Seven generations ago there was an Aboriginal person in my family, therefore I am Aboriginal’.”

To be clear: not once did I say that these people had no right to call themselves Aborigines. I’ve always accepted that they do.

I am too worried now to quote directly from what I did actually write, but my argument – which Justice Mordecai Bromberg of the Federal Court yesterday rejected – was that such people had choices.

They could choose to identify as Aboriginal, or as some other ethnicity in their ancestry, or, as I do, as Australian. Even as an individual.

Indeed, they could do as the former sprinter Patrick Johnson once put it in his own case: “I have the best of both cultures, of a couple of cultures. I mean, Dad’s Irish. I’m Aboriginal as well.”

As well. And, in fact, since I wrote my damn columns two years ago, I’ve seen that one of the people I wrote about has indeed since described herself as someone of many heritages – “of English, Jewish and Wathaurung descent”.

Two years ago, I would cheerfully have argued that this acknowledgment of a multiple ethnicity was healthier, and truer, in such cases than insisting on only being Aboriginal.

But not today. I no longer dare.

I yesterday learned I had breached the Racial Discrimination Act, as interpreted by Justice Bromberg, and I must now be very, very careful about discussing anyone’s identification with any ethnic group or “race” in multicultural Australia.

Here is a relevant part of his judgment:

“At the core of multiculturalism is the idea that people may identify with and express their racial or ethnic heritage free of pressure not to do so.”

In fact, it seems from Justice Bromberg’s judgment that it is against the values of the Racial Discrimination Act for me to write columns likely to “pressure” people to give up some racial identity.

Again, I quote: “Such pressure may ultimately cause a person to renounce their racial identity. Conduct with negating consequences such as those that I have described, is conduct inimical to the values that the RDA seeks to honour.

“People should be free to fully identify with their race without fear of public disdain or loss of esteem for so identifying.”

To argue against their choices is apparently “destructive of racial tolerance”. And, I now find to my astonishment and utter dismay, the arguments as expressed in my articles are also against the law.

Crucial to Justice Bromberg’s finding is that fair-skinned Aborigines such as the claimants do not choose their ethnic or “racial” identity, even though one of the nine in the court action against me conceded in court that her own sister disputed her account of their genealogy and did not consider herself to be Aboriginal.

If Justice Bromberg’s view is correct, I would be even more depressed than I am already.

It would have grave implications for our multi-ethnic or “multi-racial” community. Must we always be defined by our ancestry, trapped forever in some box of race? Is someone with even just 1/128th Aboriginal ancestry forever an Aborigine, and Aborigine only?

Well, yes, suggests Justice Bromberg’s judgment – as long as that person felt Aboriginal and other Aborigines approved. And this must be the law, end of debate, even if many of us disagree – even though, as His Honour wrote, “the perception of many Australians of an Aboriginal person will no doubt be influenced by the stereotypical images of a dark-skinned Aboriginal person in outback Australia”.

But I must not go further. I may breach the law.

True, having declared my columns unlawful, Justice Bromberg did insist he did not mean to “suggest that it is unlawful for a publication to deal with racial identification including the challenging the genuineness of the identification of a group of people”.

Oh, really?

Believe me, I wouldn’t ever want to test that assurance after going through what I have—two years of worry, two weeks in court, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal costs, just to test whether my columns could pass this muster.

And, yes, Justice Bromberg suggests I did bring all this upon myself, not because of my opinion (even though he condemns it) but because of the way I expressed it.

After all, I used “mockery, derision (and) sarcasm” in writing my columns, and this could offend and humiliate people – although, frankly, the most offensive thing said by anyone in this case was the vilification of me by the claimant’s own barrister, Ron Merkel QC, who accused me of having a eugenics approach towards race – the approach which he said was behind the Nazis’ Nuremberg race laws. There was even an attempt to paint me as homophobic.

I also made mistakes, Justice Bromberg said, although none seemed to me to be of consequence.

Moreover, when I wrote that none of the fair-skinned Aborigines I’d mentioned had chosen their racial identity for “anything but the most heartfelt and honest of reasons”, people would think I wasn’t being “genuine”.

Justice Bromberg also said I’d used “derisive” comments “that have little or no legitimate forensic purpose to the argument”.

His Honour cited a long list of these bad comments of mine, such as “seeking power and reassurance in a racial identity is not just weak” and “it is also divisive, feeding a new movement to stress pointless or even invented racial differences”.

For expressing such views, in such language, I have lost my freedom to put my argument as I did.

And be warned: use such phrases as those yourself, and you too may lose your right to speak.

But as I say, Justice Bromberg insists he hasn’t stopped debate on racial identification, unless, apparently, your adjectives are too sharp, your wit too pointed, your views too blunt, your observations not quite to the point, your teasing too ticklish and your facts not in every case exactly correct.

And even then, having jumped every hurdle and written with the forensic dullness of a Reserve Bank governor, you will run the risk of a judge deciding that whatever you’ve written is, after all, the very opposite of what you really meant.

Despite Justice Bromberg’s assurances, I feel that writing frankly about multiculturalism, and especially Aboriginal identity, yesterday became too dangerous for any conservative. It’s simply safer to stay silent, or write about fluffy puppies instead.

And so the multiculturalists win. They win, because no one now dares object for fear of what it will cost them in court.

Hope they’re satisfied, to win a debate not by argument but fear.

Andrew Bolt is a journalist and columnist writing for The Herald Sun in Melbourne Victoria Australia.

Andrew Bolt’s columns appear in Melbourne’s Herald Sun, Sydney’s Daily Telegraph and Adelaide’s Advertiser. He runs the most-read political blog in Australia and hosts Channel 10’s The Bolt Report each Sunday at 10am. He is also heard from Monday to Friday at 8am on the breakfast show of radio station MTR 1377, and his book  Still Not Sorry remains very widely read.

Read more excellent articles from Andrew Bolt’s Blog . http://blogs.news.com.au/heraldsun/andrewbolt/