Aussie Rules in Shambles

Faseeha Hashmi

AFL runs deep in the veins of Australian blood. It’s almost like our national code of conduct. It is the epitome of mate-ship, respect, fair go, tolerance, freedom and equal opportunity. It symbolises everything this country hopes to stand for, but the way our Aussie politicians talk in parliament these days, you’d think maybe they’ve forgotten the rules of the game.

There’s been plenty of talk of the Racial Discrimination Act, specifically, the notorious 18C clause, that commands a certain duty of respect. But what’s exactly behind all this verbiage?

Well, it is all a clever game of political maneuvering. So to understand it play-by-play, let me show you how no-one is following those good old Aussie Rules. The ones we all grew up believing we had. Get yourself some footy boots, this is going to get muddy…

Racial Discrimination Act:

It began in the bitter winter of 1975, when independent movements in new emerging nations were seen as budding new players on the international field. Racism and discrimination was no longer acceptable in the global community, and it was high time for it to be blatantly codified. Under the Gough Whitlam government Australia would align itself with the world, ratifying the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. With internationalism on the agenda and the termination of the White Australia Policy, the passing of the Racial Discrimination Act came as a major landmark victory and triumph for Australian race relations, officially providing legislative authority towards respect for multicultural society and human rights. No longer could intolerance and racial vilification be acceptable. Or so we thought…

In came the Ref:

With racism officially enshrined into the Australian legislative system, the on-field bickering began:

1995, under the Paul Keating government, added the words “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” as a show of solidarity towards multicultural society and human rights,

1997, Pauline Hanson was criticised for her comments over Aboriginal welfare policy,

2011, news reporter Andrew Bolt was held to account for his contentious comments relating to fair-skinned Aboriginal people,

2016, cartoonist Bill Leak was accused of depicting indigenous people in a racist manner,

2016, Queensland students were accused of racial discrimination against a university administrative officer.

These are just some cases where the court considered penalty, and sadly it seems indigenous people are often those targeted by such racial remarks. The 18C clause was added to the Racial Discrimination Act to empower vulnerable Australians for their right to be respected. However, court room implementation has become a major problem, given that many in our society fail to recognise the spirit of the Act.

Recent head to head:

Now fast-forward to 2017, when the desperation is setting in. With no-one clear trajectory of future jobs and investment, the government is trying to shore up votes as best it can. Politicians are concerned about their constituents not voting for them. They do not want to lose their seats to Pauline Hanson, because politicians like her, who do not follow the rules, are deemed authentic and admirable. No matter if it is unsportsmanlike behaviour.

No matter who they offend. Sport fans flock to new players like saviours; because populism is in, and more politicians are trying their best to appeal to Hanson’s voters.

Then Grand Final day came. When so-called freedom of speech defenders faced their toughest battle. Labor MP Anne Aly, asked a bold question in parliament to clarify what the Prime Minister meant by increasing freedom of speech. She said, ‘As someone who has been subjected to racism time and time again … please give me an answer: what exactly does the Prime Minister want people to be able to say that they cannot say now?’ she asked.

Let the commentators speak:

As journalist David Marr explains in the latest Quarterly Essay, the Pauline Hanson phenomenon only represents 8 % of voters in Australia and although this does not represent a “revolution”; its having an effect. If these voters are concerned by immigration, politicians will seek to appeal to them. For instance, Liberals marked the ball with an unprecedented move, by their preference for One Nation in the Upper House in the recent Western Australia state election. It’s a pretty bold statement when you bench old players, The Nationals, for the new ones on the team, One Nation. But as we know, the back-and-forth of coalition building is all part of the tactics of the game.

Game plan:

The game plan was simple. Water-down those hard-hitting words within the 18C clause of the Racial Discrimination Act which deems it inappropriate to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” and reduce it to a generic word like “harass”. Some of the great supporters like the Attorney-General George Brandis supported the amendments of the racial discrimination laws because according to him people have “a right to be bigots”. These proponents want to see the end of the 18C clause, claiming it is political correctness gone wrong.

The only way any amendments would pass was with the support of conservative punters residing in their stronghold in the Senate. Fortunately, these senators could not persuade all those within the parliamentary house. Instead, Senators chose to respect the diversity of their multicultural constituents. Tony Burke championed the achievement by tweeting the results “31-28. Respect wins”.

Read between the goal posts:

However, the debate is far from over. What we’re seeing in this country is a divided team; a tussle over the power of words, instead of the ball. Some players want to be fearless on the field. They play dirty without fear of being penalised by the umpire. Our defences have weakened, our forwards benched, while our midfields are running rampant. It’s a messy game. No longer seeing the red, some Australian politicians have dropped the ball, forgetting how to play fair.

Faseeha Hashmi holds a Master of International Relations from the University of Melbourne, with an interest in security and human rights.

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