Paul Sheehan, Sydney Morning Herald, January 14, 2013
‘Vermin n.1.noxious, troublesome, or objectionable animals collect-ively, especially troublesome or disgusting insects …3. obnoxious persons collectively.’
Several years ago I wrote a book about vermin, the kind defined by the third meaning in the Macquarie Concise Dictionary. Researching the book required me to sit in courts for months and go out and interview dozens of people. The heroine of the book was a teenager named Tegan Wagner who had been gang-raped by a group of young Muslim men. She came from the Shire and as her case was nearing an end, and I was nearing completion of Girls Like You, the notorious Cronulla riot took place.
It was December 11, 2005. Wagner was there. “When I heard about it, I wanted to go,” she told me at the time.
“I’m a Shire girl. I’ve been going to Cronulla for years. I’d seen first-hand how people get treated, not by the local Lebanese, but by the Lebanese Muslims that come in from places like Bankstown and Riverwood. They treat our beaches like a sleazy nightclub. They treat young women like garbage. And as soon as you say anything, they are on their mobile phones, to 50 of their closest friends, and their mates come down and outnumber people. If it’s guys, they will beat them up. If it’s girls, they will terrorise them.”
After the riot, and the following violent rampage by Muslim men in convoys of cars, I interviewed dozens of people from the Shire and they all gave me variations of what a teacher at Cronulla High School told me: “It’s so disturbing that the images [of the riot] distributed around Australia and the world never mentioned the beatings, the provocations, the filth. They were not even discussed.
“Every girl I know has either been harassed or knows someone who’s been harassed. It’s not just young girls. I’ve been followed on numerous occasions. It’s just constant harassment. The word ‘slut’ gets used all the time.”
None of this was aired at the time. The media’s story had one theme, the Shire’s white racism. A deafening silence about the real cause of the tension came from the feminists, much the same people now so indignant about white male misogyny.
Seven years later, nothing has changed. Now Fairfax Media is supporting the complaint by the NSW Premier, Barry O’Farrell, that nobody is being jailed for hate speech, which means the anti-discrimination laws should be toughened. The prime example used by Fairfax Media in its coverage was Alan Jones.
In the week before the Cronulla riot, Jones described the young Muslim men who for years had been sexually harassing women on the beach as “vermin” and “mongrels” who “rape and pillage”. That was the context of his comments, a context which dropped away entirely as a prosecution for hate speech by the Administrative Decisions Tribunal dragged on for seven years. No mention was made in Sunday’s news reports of the far more sinister and contemporaneous example of public hate speech on September 15 last year.
During a demonstration that turned violent in Sydney, some protesters carried provocative placards including one infamous message, “Behead those who insult the Prophet”. Many wore headbands with Arabic script exhorting jihad. Among the chants was, “Our dead are in paradise, your dead are in hell”.
Another telling moment came in the aftermath of the demonstration when supporters of a Muslim man charged with assaulting police refused to stand when the magistrate entered the court. It was a calculated act of disrespect for Australian law.
One hopes the parliamentary inquiry ordered by the Premier, which will consider diluting the section of the Anti-Discrimination Act that requires proof beyond a reasonable doubt of serious racial vilification, will be alert to the way in which anti-discrimination and anti-vilification laws are abused.
Vexatious or zealous litigants, such as religious fundamentalists, have only marginal interest in the outcome of their complaint. It is the threat of formal complaint, and the complaint process itself, with the burdens of compliance, which is used as a weapon against opponents.
As if to confirm every warning made before the previous Victorian Labor government introduced laws on anti-vilification, the first major test of the law came when Muslim fundamentalists sought to use it as a weapon against Christian fundamentalists.
This proposal by O’Farrell is part of the latest push by the political class, of which he is a fully paid-up member, to increase the power and reach of the political class. In Canberra, the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, has released a draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012, which seeks to introduce an expanded never-never of nebulous categories of discrimination offences. It includes speech that “offends” or “insults”. It extends the categories of potential discrimination to “political opinion” and “social origin”.
Every aspect of the draft law is biased towards expanding the possibilities of complaint. It will make it easier for complaints to be lodged.
Shockingly, the draft bill reverses the onus of proof. A person accused of discrimination will be deemed guilty until the claim has been dismissed. The bill then even requires defendants who have been found not guilty to pay their own legal costs.
Complaints will be heard by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which is desperate to increase its relevance, and the Federal Magistrates Court, which already has more than enough of a caseload. The draft federal bill has been submitted to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is due to report on February 18.
In NSW, the parliamentary inquiry ordered by the Premier will conduct public hearings in April.
Both these proposed changes to the law are being treated as paradisaical by the human rights industry.
This alone should send an alarm to the rest of the community.
It should also alarm the parliamentary inquiry but it never seems to occur to the members of the political class — politicians, staffers, lobbyists, bureaucrats and lawyers — that the extension of the government power via micro-management, regulation and compulsion has been cumulatively unceasing for more than a century to the point of social, legal and moral sclerosis.