Media marginalisation of “the Other” in Australia.

‘The fact that they co-host the same show yet only one has been the subject of pointed attacks in the media makes it hard to argue that the problem, from the perspective of long-term TV insiders, isn’t one of race.’

– from ‘Why you should care about the casual racism on television; comparing the reaction to Waleed Aly’s Gold Logie nomination to the reaction to colleague Carrie Bickmore’s.


Back in 2010, I wrote this post titled ‘People like us: media representation and social cohesion’. In short, the post is about the importance of seeing the full diversity of a country’s population reflected in the cultural media landscape; how good storytelling and media representation can foster understanding and respect for fellow citizens, and a sense of belonging and inclusion for otherwise marginalised people.

In that post, I quoted something Waleed Aly (whom I have been critical of on various occasions) said in his interview with Andrew Denton on program Enough Rope – about the importance of positive Muslim “role models” and icons in the media and public life, at a time when mistrust and marginalisation of Muslim people had taken root in Australia:

“I think we like to see reflections of ourselves in the public space and Muslims have been really short on role models in the public space in Australia or even in the western world. We’ve had some very successful Muslims. John Ilhan, the late John Ilhan’s a very good example of that. But at the same time his real name was Mustafa and he had to become John to become a success.”

“And when you see him [Bashar Haoli, first top grade Muslim AFL player], out there, and you see him do that, you suddenly for a moment have this belief, this realisation that I could do that, if I had the talent. But the thing that’s stopping me is that I’m no good, not that I happen to be a Muslim or that I come from a Middle Eastern background, and that’s incredibly powerful. It’s so powerful, I don’t think people who don’t have that problem who have never encountered not being represented in the public space in some way understand how debilitating that can be.” [emphasis mine]

Fast foward to April 2016, and public intellectual+professional print/radio/television broadcaster of many years Waleed Aly – along with broadcasting veteran and avant garde icon Lee Lin Chin – have become the FIRST EVER non-white Gold Logie nominees (in a list that includes 6 people). The Logie nominations are awarded based on a popular vote by citizens who care enough to cast votes in this popularity contest.

The response from media gate keepers and segments of the (white) media establishment to the announcement that these two public figures were on the list was… incredibly telling. Karl Stefanovic,  2011 Gold Logie winner who has attempted with some success to put himself forth as an enlightened person in regards to Indigenous relations and gender equality, couldn’t help but betray a sizeable blind spot he has in this pathetic Today show exchange with two other well-paid white public figures:

Ben: “Where is Lisa Wilkinson’s Gold Logie?”
Karl: “Lisa’s too white.”
Ben: “Is that it?”
Karl: “That’s it.”
Lisa: (laughing) “I got a spray tan and everything, still didn’t make it. What can you do?”
Karl: “Logies controversy. Boom.”

In the segment later defended by the host network as not about race, Stefanovic also joked that despite being white “on the outside”, he was “dark on the inside”; then was hailed by co-host Ben Fordham as a trailblazer. Meanwhile, the usual suspects in the media establishment reacted to the announcement of the two highly accomplished non-white broadcasters being nominees as if a political leader had tried to steal an election.

New Matilda published this rebuttal pointing out the rank hypocrisy, inconsistency, racism and Islamophobia that characterised the bizarrely heated (but not surprising) reactions to Aly and Lin Chin being nominated. I just want you to ponder, for one minute, what it might be like to live as a brown-skinned person in a country in which one of the only public figures who looks like you, and that you may identify with – an accomplished, law-abiding centrist intellectual – is attacked based only on his status as a non-white man.

Regardless of what other privileges of citizenship you have, do you think it does an individual’s or community’s psychological state any favours to live in a context in which any success that non-white (or non-majority) people enjoy is denigrated, mocked and blamed on the ego-preserving concept of “reverse discrimination”? Or blamed on affirmative action – an often necessary policy approach to redress well-established pro-white hiring and selection bias? Even when the non-white people in question were actually selected based on popular public vote?

Think about how the reaction to these two media figures might mirror the marginalisation of unapologetically non-majority people in Australian society at large. And I use the term unapologetically in a positive sense. Both Aly and Lin Chin have been on our screens for ages. Lin Chin has endured much abuse for her ethnicity, voice, looks and style over her career; yet continues to kick ass as an avant garde icon. Aly has endured a lot of racist abuse, but continues to speak out against racism and a range of social abuses.

Perhaps the “issue” unconscious racists are having is not that mild-mannered Aly and non-political Lin Chin are not white – I can imagine the same people and news organisation wholeheartedly embracing and supporting a non-white person who attacks others who speak out about racism, cultivates a conventional style and uncritically supports the status quo and nationalism (they gave one such person her own column and regularly consult her for these kinds of opinions).

Maybe the real root to the aversion to Lin Chin and Aly is that they have not shed the things that make them ‘the Other’ in many people’s minds – whilst simultaneously owning their identity as Australians. As it should be.


Interesting fact: the proportion of Australians born overseas has hit a 120-year high (March 2016 ABS statistics) and Screen Australia recently announced a research project to ascertain just how diverse cast and storyline diversity has been in Australian television drama over the last five years. I’ll write about this in an upcoming post.

And I’m sorry this post was late – it’s been a crazy, but intensely creative, week.


Liberal feminism’s blind spot: material & structural oppression

“How would training women to ask for higher pay help her, as someone who earns a set award wage and has very little power to negotiate anything? How would professional mentoring empower her? How would her life be improved by quotas for women on boards?”

– Eleanor Robertson in her Meanjin essay ‘Get mad and get even’, talking about her sister, a part-time childcare worker.


The week before last I read Eleanor Robertson’s critique of hyper-individualistic liberal feminism – and pop feminism – in the current edition Meanjin Quarterly. It is a thoughtful essay; you can read it HERE. Robertson challenges the popular discourse around empowering women in the workplace and society at large; “solutions” that focus on individual actions (of a particular class of women) that, she argues, only benefit the individuals themselves. Robertson asks: “Shouldn’t our demands be for universal changes to the structure of society that will help all women?”

For example, Robertson argues that Sheryl Sandberg’s self-help philosophy, ‘Lean In’, is the manifestation of liberal feminism’s Enlightenment values of individual choice, meritocracy, and “acceptance of the basic structures of capitalist social organisation.” She points out that Sandberg’s idea – and by extension, liberal feminism – completely fails to acknowledge or address an array of structural barriers that prevent many women from realising the liberal feminist dream. [This is a point I emphasised in section 3 of my post ‘Diversity Feminism’].

Robertson writes:

“This mythology is only available to women who share most of Sandberg’s own social positions: middle- or upper-class, white, educated, heterosexual, able, employed. It doesn’t really attempt to engage in analysis of material or structural factors that circumscribe women’s freedom. Few modern liberal feminists are pro-Sandberg, but her views are the logical distillation of liberalism applied to women. The concepts it excludes from its analysis—solidarity, collective action, bottom-up democracy—are the ones most essential to the project of emancipating women as a class.[emphasis mine]

A valid and sharply made point. Robertson’s critique of the pursuit of entertainment diversity, however, is less so. Whilst I do agree that equating diversity in marketing and entertainment products with broadscale empowerment is misguided and naive, the cultural products that surround us do shape (not merely mirror or distract) our consciousness; only someone who is accustomed to being in the historically oppressive ethnic majority (and educated, heterosexual, able bodied, employed, cisgender – as the author appears to be), or simply detached from society, would dimiss the idea that diversity in culture (including visual culture and storytelling) has value at all.

That being said, Robertson highlights the inefficacy of the so-called “offense model of feminism” in regards to protecting women’s human and civil rights, which in places like The United States are under persistant and increasing attack from reactionaries. Moreover, all this focus on individual action and choice, she argues, is funnelling time and resources away from “sites of real struggle” – and preventing us from seeing the need for collective action organised around a vision for a world that is fairer and healthier than the one we currently have.

A world where “being poor, being black, and being a woman didn’t mean being ground into the dirt by arbitrary power”.

You can have a read of the essay in full HERE. Though I am not 100% on board with all of Robertson’s assertions, there is a load of food for thought in this piece.


Another recent essay that captured my attention (and a great many others) was Richard Cooke’s piece for the Monthly, ‘The Boomer Supremacy’; about the demographic hoarding political power, securing their own economic advantage, imposing their cultural dominance, and crapping on younger generations at every opportunity.

Highly recommend reading it HERE

Diversity Feminism.

I have both a spiritual and justice agenda in life. Simply put, it is the empowerment of the Feminine and the healing/balancing of the Masculine – in my country of citizenship, in my country of birth, in the Pacific/Oceania region, and globally.

The text below has been sitting in my hard drive for eight months. I wrote it one evening, for myself, in the midst of one of those frustrating public discussions that occasionally arises regarding what feminism is and isn’t, who is and isn’t a good feminist, and why some women distance themselves from the term altogether.

It was inspired by innumerable disagreements I have observed on social media, about ‘white feminism’ and the bizarrely controversial term ‘intersectionality’; and my frustration with how essential conversations about the diversity (different realities) of women are often handled in this public sphere by otherwise intelligent, brilliant people.

And it was my first ‘stream of consciousness’ attempt to articulate my personal feminist framework in my 31st year of life – specific to my experience as a citizen of a ‘settler society’ (Australia) and the barriers that exist in this context. It takes into account the diverse lived experiences of women here (the experiences I am aware of), and how some women face additional barriers due to the intersection of gender discrimination with class, race, et cetera. 

Specifically, barriers to what liberal feminists would regard as the goals of feminism: equality in the public sphere and individual self determination. I did not consult any feminist theories whilst writing this document – my views expressed below evolved over time, shaped by diverse texts, debates, public intellectuals, and lived experience.


So here it is. what I will refer to as my version of ‘Diversity Feminism’.


1) Is focused on settler societies, and their diverse populations.

The locus of my Diversity Feminism is within ‘settler societies’ such as Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States – countries broadly built upon the displacement of Indigenous peoples by European colonisation, racist population and border control, and waves of migration. Some of these countries have historically also accommodated forced migration – various forms of slave labour. Australia included

Justice necessitates a full acknowledgement of these histories and policies, and the legacies they produced in terms of persistent intergenerational trauma and cultural, systemic inequalities – which adversely affect some groups in society whilst privileging others. Diversity Feminism seeks to understand – through history and other disciplines, the sciences, the humanities, and the arts  – the root causes of group disadvantage, and discord.

It seeks this multi-faceted understanding, in order to find holistic and innovative solutions to these disadvantages themselves, and create a more just society.

2) Is committed to reconciliation and respect for Indigenous peoples.

Full acknowledgment of history – in particular Indigenous history, both prior to and after white colonisation – is an essential condition of reconciliation, equality, and social cohension. 

The seismic injustice and wounding that occured at the time of the foundation of settler societies, and the destruction that policies governing Indigenous communities wrought over centuries and upon generations of people, must be acknowledged – as a precursor to a healthy society, the wellbeing of Indigenous peoples and, in particular, Indigenous women and girls.

Diversity Feminism upholds that justice requires SELF DETERMINATION for Indigenous communities, and recognises the esssential leadership role Indigenous women play in this self determination. These communities are diverse – geographically and otherwise. Their histories, needs and preferences will differ. The aim of government policies should be to work with communities in order to design and tailor programs to suit them and uphold human rights.

A committment to long-term funding and a ‘self determination’ approach is crucial – communities, Indigenous women and girls, have suffered tremendously as a result of myopic funding cuts and frequent policy changes. In many cases, successful, self determination oriented policies formulated with or indeed by community leaders have been attacked and shelved as a result of the ideological biases of politicians, bureaucrats, and activists. 

Top-down, radically assimilationist policies have in many cases caused much harm. Knee-jerk resistance to “paternalistic measures” required to interrupt cycles of dysfunction can also be harmful. Again, the specific conditions and needs of each community, and the vision and wishes of each community, should determine the policies designed for them.

Finally, policy makers, the broader society, and certainly diversity feminists must acknowledge the deep racism that lingers towards the Indigenous peoples within our countries. This is undeniable – reflected in shameful statistical disparities and documented lived experiences of Aboriginal people. To deny these disparities in 2015 is, in and of itself, an act of racism. And will continue to be until those disparities are fully eliminated.

Much progress towards reconciliation has been made, and this is to be acknowledged and celebrated. But both systemic racism and incidences of personal racism towards Indigenous peoples remain ubiquitous. Respectfully understanding the histories of our nations – not just the relatively recent white settler histories, but Indigenous histories – and how they have shaped our national consciousness, is essential to understanding why.

We cannot truly close the empathy gap and support the empowerment of all Indigenous women and girls without this understanding.

3) Asserts that diversity is reality.

My Diversity Feminism obviously recognises areas of “universal” concern for women and girls in settler societies: legal equality for women; healthcare and family planning services; equal access to education, jobs, and public spaces; equal pay for equal work; progressive restructuring of education and work institutions to accomodate and value caring duties and child rearing responsibilities; freedom for girls and women from violence, abuse and harassment in all its forms.

However, by putting the locus solely on “universal” concerns, many western iterations of feminism within ‘settler societies’ fail to acknowledge or address a vast array of specific, complex obstacles that inhibit marginalised or “Othered” women within them – and prevent such women from enjoying the rights, freedoms, and equal participation in society enjoyed by the more privileged – i.e. white, able bodied, middle class women.

[This has always been the case. An historic legal example: “women” in general were not granted the right to vote in Australian Commonwealth elections in 1902; white women were. Indigenous women had to wait until 1962. In 1920 British subjects were granted ‘all political and other rights’, but South Sea Islanders were still ineligible to vote despite being British subjects. Natives of British India living in Australia were allowed to vote in 1925.]

To remedy this, Diversity Feminism centres its focus on the diverse realities of:

  • First Nations women
  • Ethnically diverse women, and linguistically diverse women
  • Women living with neurological differences, chronic illnesses and disabled women
  • Women living with psychiatric conditions
  • Elderly women
  • Transgender women
  • Single mothers
  • Women carers
  • Women who struggle with English literacy
  • Women stuck on a low income (the working poor, and welfare supported women)
  • Women trapped in abusive and/or violent relationships
  • Homeless women and women who require public housing
  • Women in remote, rural or underserviced communities
  • Same-sex attracted women
  • Women sex workers
  • Exploited workers (including non-citizens & forced/coerced labourers)
  • Women in the prison system
  • Women who have sought asylum in our countries.

These women may in theory share some of the aforementioned “universal” concerns and seek the same gender equity that white, middle class, able-bodied women do – but they face additional external barriers to the realisation of full empowerment due to factors like location, class, “race”, cultural background, literacy/language competency, and disability that can prevent them from doing so.

Diversity Feminism therefore centres the experiences of these women and seeks to examine these barriers, to understand how they intersect (“intersectionality”) with gender – in order to find multi-disciplinary, holistic policy solutions for them. Diversity Feminism is committed to ensuring all women are valued, supported, and empowered to live safe, meaningful, productive, and self determining lives.

4) Upholds and supports individual human rights, both in mainstream national culture and for women within culturally diverse communities (First Nations women included).

For the purposes of this document, cultural patriarchy is defined as: cultures in which the desires, drives and demands of men carry more weight that the desires, drives and demands of women; within which women are restricted to defined gender roles, mores of behaviour, and life paths; and within which women are prevented from ascending to leadership positions due to their sex.

Diversity Feminism supports progressive cultural change away from rigid cultural patriarchy, towards equal opportunity and rights for all women and girls – within both the broad national culture AND within its various cultural communities.

Diversity Feminism also understands that sustainable cultural change comes from within – in this case, led by women and men inside the communities in which change must occur. It therefore seeks to offer firm support to women and girls in culturally diverse communities – and their allies – to instigate progressive change within those communities.

In doing so, Diversity Feminism aims to both respect the unique identities of various cultural communities that are important to many women, AND augment such cultural communities to include recognition of human rights for women and girls. Diversity Feminism affirms those who seek to be agents of change from within.

Fundamentally, Diversity Feminism recognises the reality that many feminists successfully mediate between different cultural identities, in ways that affirm and empower them – and that cultures can change. It therefore aims to foster progressive change across all cultures towards the recognition of human rights for ALL women and girls – and more broadly, all people.

5) Upholds and supports individual human rights for women globally.

Supporting ‘change from within’ is a principle applied in relation to women and girls in other countries too. It is expressed through supporting grass roots initiatives in other countries – and between countries – to secure the rights and empowerment of women and girls around the globe. In particular, the voices and leadership of women in the “Global South”, and conflict zones, should be elevated and affirmed. Overseas movements of men for progressive cultural and legal change – the empowerment of the women in their countries – should also be supported. 

6) Understands that the nation states we live in exist within a bigger picture – a global economic system, that entrenches inequality and relies upon exploitation. 

My Diversity Feminism recognises that Western nations enjoy the level of development they do in large part as a result of centuries of mass human and resource exploitation in the “Global South”. Western colonial projects also planted the seeds of many conflicts and territorial disputes. The international relations objectives and foreign policy of countries (notably the United States) since the development of the nation-state system, have created both immense wealth for some and immense suffering for millions of others globally. Obviously, women and girls are amongst those affected. 

And Diversity Feminism recognises that the material wealth and many of the products we rely upon/enjoy are stained with the suffering of unseen, unheard, exploited workers throughout the world – many of whom are women and girls, or the family members of women and girls.

Diversity Feminism therefore supports progressive government/legislative regulations at a regional, national and international level that protect ALL people, fauna and ecosystems from:

  • human and labour rights abuses
  • unsafe and unethical business practices in all markets (including practices harmful to animals)
  • unsafe and unethical supply chains in production of goods and services
  • unsafe and unethical resource extraction and/or processing

On a personal level, my Diversity Feminism compels me to try, as much as possible, to approach consumption with a sense of responsibility to both the wellbeing of workers and responsible resource extraction in mind – supporting businesses operating ethically in accordance with regulatory measures, or of their own volition [e.g. B Corps]. 

When exercising ones political, legal and consumer freedoms, the Diversity Feminist should endeavour to make choices that align with any or all of the above.


And… that was it. First attempt to articulate my approach to feminism as a citizen of Australia, a lady with roots in the Global South, a disabled woman. The idealist in me actually believes settler societies have the potential to be the freest, healthiest, and most harmoniously diverse societies on Earth, if they examine their national souls and do the necessary progressive justice work; my diversity feminism is very much about getting us there. I will continue to refine the vision.

© 2016 Pauline Vetuna, All Rights Reserved.

Everything wrong with Brandis’ proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

This is a follow up to my previous March post on the exposure draft of changes to racial vilification protections contained in the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) (RDA). Please accept my apology for the delay – I have been on sabbatical. Polls indicate that a majority of Australians are in favour of leaving the RDA as it is. The public consultation process ended on 30 April 2014. We sent 5,500 submissions to Attorney-General George Brandis about his proposed changes – which, if enacted, would repeal Sections 18 B, C, D and E, and widen (to an obscene degree) the exemptions under 18D. Public comment of a “racial” nature would no longer be required to be made “reasonably” and in “good faith”.

Brandis’ exposure draft, released on 25 March 2014, can be read here. As expected, the brief document is boldly regressive, containing changes that would effectively render the anti-vilification powers of the Racial Discrimination Act useless.

These are the 3 main ways that Brandis (The Abbott Government) is proposing to ruin the Act:

1. Brandis wants to redefine what vilification means in the Act – the current meaning, “conduct causing offence, insult, humiliation or intimidation” – will be replaced by “conduct that is reasonably likely to vilify [which means incite hatred] or to intimidate”.

Make no mistake – this is not an improvement.

It defines racial vilification to mean ONLY incitement to hatred, which is unprecedented, as even state and territory laws dealing with racial vilification include other conduct – like serious contempt, severe ridicule and revulsion – in their definitions. Simon Rice (Professor of Law, Director of Law Reform and Social Justice at Australian National University) explains here that Brandis is relying on a “spurious distinction” – that Section 18C, in its current form, does not prohibit racial vilification:

“Brandis chooses to define racial vilification only as ‘incitement to racial hatred’, so he is able to say that the current definition is not in fact ‘vilification’. This trivialises the protection that the current racial vilification provisions have offered for almost 20 years, and supports his misleading claim that: There is no law of the Commonwealth of Australia that prohibits racial vilification.”

Rice goes on: “By addressing only incitement to racial hatred, Brandis is winding back the vilification prohibition to cover a single – and increasingly rare – type of behaviour: the crude, public rantings of a racist. He fails to recognise, or maybe even comprehend, the pervasive, casual racism in Australian society that Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane has identified.”

It is also worth emphasising here that the kind of vilification Brandis does not seem to want to acknowledge – offence, insult, humiliation or intimidation always precedes and bolsters the kind of vilification that involves incitement to racial hatred and physical harm. I guess this is why Rice says the change to this section is more concerned with maintaining public order, than preventing harm.

Moreover, the State and Territory racial vilification laws – which already use the “incitement” test – have been criticised for being too difficult to prove. The proposed changes to the RDA will make “incitement” even harder to prove, given the wording. The Human Rights Law Centre states that “Taken together, these changes would substantially wind back the scope of the existing protection given by section 18C.”

Rice advises that legislators genuinely concerned about prohibiting incitement to racial hatred – as Brandis claims to be – would do well to turn their attention to “criminal provisions elsewhere in Australia, and Australia’s continuing failure to honour its international treaty obligation to criminalise racial vilification.”

2. Currently, whether something is deemed ‘racial vilification’ is assessed from the perspective of a reasonable person to whom conduct is directed. Brandis wants to change this to the perspective of “an ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community”, and specifically “not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community”.

It is not clear as to who an “ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community” is.

Moreover, the specification of “not by the standards of any particular group within the Australian community”, is very telling. As Waleed Ali noted in this controversially titled (but excellent) op ed, “That’s code. It means, not by the standard of whatever racial minority is being vilified. Not the ordinary reasonable wog, gook or sand nigger; the ordinary reasonable Australian.”

I am with Ali (not something I say often) when he argues that this attempt to repeal the RDA is springing forth from a particular mythology about the way race relations works in this country – and on whose terms. He notes the exposure draft “trades on all the assumptions about race that you’re likely to hold if, in your experience, racism is just something that other people complain about.”

Simon Rice argues that “no member of the […] majority – politicians, policymakers, opinion writers – can understand what it is to have one’s life defined by one’s difference. When ‘free speech’ characterises that difference as a deficiency – a sign of inferiority – offence is a real sense that is qualitatively different from any idea of offence that we in the majority can have.”

There is a genuine difference in lived reality here – the lived reality of racial difference. It is difficult for someone who has not had that experience, day in and day out, to comprehend what it is like to exist in a world where others are responding to your physical appearance, your accent, your cultural dress and markers, and the people you love (i.e. family) who share these traits (and who are outnumbered significantly by people who don’t look like you do), in a negative, hostile, harmful way.

Not having this kind of insight – insight that can have intersections with socio-economic class, too, as people from “minority” backgrounds insulated from severe discrimination by money can be just as sightless – produces a kind of “blindness” to disadvantage and, yes, to what can reasonably be called vilification by those who actually experience it.

And there is an historical context to all of this, in which (all) racial comments are made. An extensive, brutal, and well-documented history of racial persecution and discrimination across the Western world, and in Australia, towards everyone who isn’t white. And, in particular, towards Aboriginal People, who statistically still endure the inter-generational effects of violent colonisation and ongoing racism.

It is no coincidence that the case that sparked this push for the watering down of the RDA involved a group of Aboriginal People suing a very influential, well connected, white columnist. And as Fergal Davis pointed out: “There is a context when the privileged seek to deny the Stolen Generations by implying that being light skinned makes someone less Aboriginal. That context can mean that a seemingly inoffensive phrase is, in fact, offensive.”

In other words, if you’re unlikely to ever experience racial discrimination, if you are not experiencing racial discrimination now, and if the ethnic group you are a part of has historically not experienced racial discrimination and stigmatisation (and the deprivation, exploitation, and violence that follows), you are not in the best position to judge whether or not something is vilifying, harmful, and intimidating.

This is why switching from the perspective of the violated, to the majority – which is what the vague “ordinary reasonable member of the Australian community” is likely to mean in practice – is so problematic. And it is why the Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson’s comment to Fairfax, that the proposed repeal would restore ”equality” to discrimination laws, is completely wrong. It won’t restore ”equality”. It will destroy it, as it does not acknowledge that very real difference in lived experience – which the current Act does, and admirably has, for 20 years.

Lastly, switching to the perspective of the majority population, the amorphous “mainstream”, might actually perpetuate the phenomenon of unconscious racism. As Marcia Langton noted in her submission: “it could allow normative racism to be the standard by which allegations of racial or ethnic vilification are judged. Many Australians are simply not aware of when they are being racist.”

3. Brandis wants to include an exemption in Section 18D, that would make vilifying or intimidating public conduct done “in the course of participating in the public discussion” acceptable. There is no qualification to this exception, which is extraordinary, as every other vilification law in Australia limits exceptions to conduct thusly – that conduct must be done “reasonably and in good faith”.

The “in the course of public discussion” exemption is so broad that it renders the section useless as a law against racial vilification – which is the whole point of the law.

The exemption states that vilification “does not apply to words, sounds, images or writing spoken, broadcast, published or otherwise communicated in the course of participating in the public discussion of any political, social, cultural, religious, artistic, academic or scientific matter.” Translation: pretty much ALL public racial vilification is OK. The Human Rights Law Centre notes in their extensive submission:“Most public racial vilification is likely to be covered by the exemption – even if it incites racial hatred or causes racial humiliation or fear of physical harm on the grounds of race.”

But this, to me, is the most egregious part of the entire amendment proposal: the removal of the requirement that the accused acted “reasonably or in good faith”.

It was also the most predictable part of the exposure draft, as columnist Andrew Bolt was unable to rely on the current section 18D free speech exemptions because the court found he did not act “reasonably or in good faith”. Instead, the court found his articles contained multiple errors of material fact, distortions of the truth and inflammatory and provocative language.

The Human Rights Law Centre submission refers to one example extracted from the court decision:

Mr Bolt said of Wayne and Graham Atkinson that they were “Aboriginal because their Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman” (1A-33). In the second article Mr Bolt wrote of Graham Atkinson that “his right to call himself Aboriginal rests on little more than the fact that his Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman” (A2-28). The facts given by Mr Bolt and the comment made upon them are grossly incorrect. The Atkinsons’ parents are both Aboriginal as are all four of their grandparents and all of their great grandparents other than one who is the Indian great grandfather that Mr Bolt referred to in the article.

They went on to observe that:

“The court in the Bolt case made it very clear that it’s not unlawful to publish articles that deal with racial identity or challenge the genuineness of someone’s racial identity. If Mr Bolt had been accurate in writing about the light-skinned Aboriginals he discussed in his articles, or even if he had taken reasonable steps to be accurate about them [emphasis mine] (such as contacting them), it is far more likely that his articles would have been protected by the section 18D free speech exemptions.”

Stipulating a legal requirement that a remark on someone’s race, or a discussion of a matter that involves race, must be done “reasonably or in good faith”, is just good sense, given historical precedent – centuries of people distributing false information about individuals and groups with the most sinister of intentions (do some reading on any genocide, ethnically motivated atrocities or thuggery, to find numerous examples of such poisonous public communication).

That Brandis and his supporters want this legal requirement removed says a lot – none of it good, yet none of it surprising. They might claim, still, that this push to amend the act is all about restoring free speech. But, as the decision in the Bolt case made clear, and as The Human Rights Law Centre noted above, “it’s not unlawful to publish articles that deal with racial identity or challenge the genuineness of someone’s racial identity”. Which brings me to my final point…

The bogus “restoring free speech” argument: how the RDA already supports freedom of speech.

We have free speech when it comes to race in Australia.

We really do. After 20 years of the sections of the Act in question being operational, the laws have been considered in less than 100 finalised court cases. The Human Rights Law Centre states in their submission to the Attorney-General that “An analysis of these cases shows that the laws have been applied sensibly by the courts and are operating reasonably effectively. In particular, courts have stated that to be unlawful under section 18C, the conduct must have ‘profound and serious effects, not to be likened to mere slights’.”

They go on: “Further, courts have also stated that the conduct must be assessed against an objective standard, judged from the perspective of a hypothetical reasonable or ordinary person from the relevant racial group. Courts have said that extreme, atypical or intolerant reactions are not relevant. Even if someone is personally offended or insulted by conduct, there won’t be a breach of racial vilification laws unless the conduct meets the objective standard.”

In other words, it is already quite difficult to be found to have violated this Act. And a major study of Australian hate speech laws – recently conducted by Katharine Gelber, Professor of Politics at University of Queensland, and Luke McNamara, Professor of Law at University of Wollongong – provides further evidence of this.

In fact, in this joint article published in The Conversation, Gelber and McNamara assert that “Australia’s version of hate speech legislation places a heavy enforcement burden on the people it is meant to help. Perhaps this is the price to be paid for balancing free speech rights and the right not to be vilified, but it means that legal protection is unevenly distributed across the communities who experience racism and other forms of prejudice.”

They make it clear that Australia does not have a ‘Big Brother’ situation: “It is down to victims to ‘enforce’ the law, and this is no easy task. Some complainants turn to hate speech laws in desperation because all other efforts have failed to stop a neighbour from subjecting them to appalling public racist abuse and no other legal redress is available.”

So. Not only does the Racial Discrimination Act in its current form place NO heavy restrictions on public debate or free speech, but minorities who experience vilification carry the enormous burden of trying to pursue justice under the Act – an extremely difficult pursuit they may not have the time, resources, expertise, patience or confidence to follow through.

“Complainants who do decide to proceed are not motivated by self-interest or greed”, Gelber and McNamara stress. “Jeremy Jones never received a cent in relation to any of the cases he pursued under the Racial Discrimination Act to confront and condemn serious anti-Semitism.” Their research showed up little evidence of an overzealous approach to taking legal action on behalf of complainants.

Finally, in regards to free speech – Gelber and McNamara’s 20-year study of media content revealed zero evidence that the Act has had any ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and debate in the media in that time period. “While some of the crudest edges have been knocked off the language used in media commentary”, they write, “Australians seem as willing as ever to express robust views about a broad range of issues from Indigenous land rights, to gay marriage, to immigration and refugees.”


The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Australia is a party to, protects both freedom of opinion and freedom of expression – whilst stipulating that the exercise of the right to freedom of expression may be subject to restrictions, in certain circumstances. In essence, it must be balanced against other rights.

The Racial Discrimination Act already gets that balance right. Referring (rather ironically) to one of Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson’s heroes, Professor of Law Simon Rice urges us to remember philosopher John Stuart Mill’s classical liberal “harm principle”: that those who enjoy freedom of expression must assess the limits on that freedom by an awareness of the harm that can be caused by it.

The Act, as it stands, embodies this idea. Gelber and McNamara’s study showed that The Racial Discrimination Act has permitted freedom of speech whilst codifying standards of behaviour and providing some basic protections – recourse for when a violation has occurred – for vulnerable people in our community. This further supports the view that Brandis’ proposed changes to the Act are regressive and wholly unnecessary.

I’m going to let award-winning writer, poet & commentator Siv Parker have the last word:

“The nature of the debate in my corner of social media revolves around dismay that a small handful of peoples’ definition of freedom of speech may incapacitate another person’s entire existence. What is freedom, if it simply means the liberty to rip apart the social fabric of our country?”


Links (in order of appearance):

1. Vetuna, P, ‘Brandis’ fight for the right to SPREAD FALSEHOODS to further bigoted agendas – S18C repeal’, in Just the Messenger blog, 27 March 2014,

2. ‘Overwhelming majority reject change to racial vilification law’, in Australian Human Rights Commission website, 14 April 2014,

3. ‘FREEDOM OF SPEECH (REPEAL OF S. 18C) BILL 2014 Attachment A’, in Attorney General’s Department website, March 2014,

4. Rice, S, ‘Race act changes are what you get when you champion bigotry’, in The Conversation, 26 March 2014,

5. ‘Racism a challenge for all of us, says new Race Discrimination Commissioner’, in Australian Human Rights Commission website, 19 August 2013,

6. ‘Information Paper on proposed changes to Australia’s racial vilification laws’, in Human Rights Law Centre website, April 2014,

7. Ali, W, ‘Brandis’ race hate laws are whiter than white’, in The Age website, 27 March 2014,

8. Davis, F, ‘I used to believe I had the right to be a bigot. But reason prevailed’, in The Guardian, 31 March 2014,

9. Hall, B, ‘Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson says race hate laws are bizarre, unequal’, in The Age website, 30 March 2014,

10. Langton, M, ‘Our race act has had a civilising effect: leave it be’, in The Australian website, 8 May 2014,

11. Gelber, K, & McNamara, L, ‘Explainer: how do Australia’s laws on hate speech work in practice?’, in The Conversation, 9 May 2014,

12. Parker, S, ”Repealing the race hate laws isn’t ‘freedom’ to Indigenous people’, in The Guardian, 27 March 2014,

Under the Red Dress Project

“Your scars aren’t ugly. They mean you’re alive.”

Beth Whaanga, 32, cancer fighter, Under the Red Dress Project


This campaign went viral last month, but in case you missed it:

The health promotion photographic campaign has been conceived by Beth Whaanga, a Brisbane based Registered Nurse and Criminologist, and her friend, Commercial Photographer Nadia Mascot. Beth is a mother of four, married for ten years to Maui Whaanga. After being diagnosed with early stages breast cancer and the BCRA2 gene mutation, she decided with her friend Nadia to collaborate on this piece of health promotion.

The pair staged a photo shoot that resulted in six, beautiful and striking photographs: in the first, Beth is wearing one of her favourite red dresses, a picture of glamour and youth. In the photographs that follow, Beth’s mostly naked body is revealed – bearing the very real and permanant marks of the fight for survival. Tram flap breast reconstruction scars. Total bilateral mastectomy scars. Bellorac drain scar. Total hysterectomy scar. Melanoma lumpectomy scar. Navel reconstruction. Ongoing hair loss.

Many have found the images to be too confronting – 103 “friends” unfriended Beth on Facebook when she published them. Some even said that the images were pornographic. I cannot fathom this kind of “thinking”.

Perhaps the images are confronting. And perhaps this is because we do not see real, scarred bodies on a regular basis. Obviously, in our daily interactions, we do not see the full extent of each others bodies. And in our media, we see 2-hr-daily-workout-session bodies, seemingly untouched by sickness, accident, abuse, birth defects. Even in the most prominent cancer campaigns, it is unusual to see the real scars of cancer surgery depicted.

In fearlessly revealing these scars, Beth and the Under the Red Dress Project are seeking to make a statement – read some wonderful words explaining the vision of the campaign HERE. You can also find them on Facebook HERE.


I do think the images are powerful, and empowering. On a personal note, I would love to have the cahones to just be able to publicly bare my scars as Beth has. It is a great campaign, and like thousands of others I look forward to seeing it grow. Below is an interview Beth and her husband Maui did with TVNZ. She explains why it was important to show the scars of her battle against cancer, without shame or fear, amongst an ocean of awareness ribbon campaigns:

Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival Symposium Mini Program



When: 21 March, 9:00am – 5:30pm Where: FCAC Basement Theatre

Registration: $20 – waged/ $10 unwaged/conc. Includes refreshments and a copy of the publication Mana Motu.

Book online:

The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival Symposium will bring together creative practitioners, community elders, academics and arts industry professionals whose work engages with the contemporary Pacific. Confirmed speakers: Ruth McDougall, Dion Peita, Lisa Hilli, Latai Taumoepeau, Michael Kisombo, JD Mittman, Yvonne Carrillo‐Huffman, Lea Rumwaropen, Taloi Havini, Thelma Thomas, David Siliga Setoga, Mandy Treagus, Keren Ruki, Julia Mageau Gray, Angela Tiatia, Salote Tawale.

Mini program is available here [opens pdf]: SYMPOSIUM_MINI_PROGRAM

Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival 2014


Annual Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival returns to Footscray Community Arts Centre in March 2014.

Presented in partnership with Footscray Community Arts Centre and CPAF, the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival is a multi-disciplinary showcase of the creative talents of the Australian contemporary Pacific arts community. Throughout the month of March, creative workshops and exhibitions are being held across various Melbourne locations, with the two-day main festival event and Symposium taking place at the Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC). All are invited to experience the distinct stories and art of the Pacific diaspora in Melbourne.


21 March,  9:00am – 5:30pm   Where: FCAC Basement Theatre
The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival Symposium will bring together creative practitioners, community elders, academics and arts industry professionals whose work engages with the contemporary Pacific. Confirmed speakers include: Ruth McDougall, Dion Peita, Lisa Hilli, Latai Taumoepeau, Michael Kisombo, JD Mittman, Yvonne Carrillo‐Huffman, Lea Rumwaropen, Taloi Havini, Thelma Thomas, David Siliga Setoga, Mandy Treagus, Keren Ruki, Julia Mageau Gray, Angela Tiatia, Salote Tawale.

When: 21 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where: FCAC Roslyn Smorgon Gallery
Opening night will feature stirring performances from multi-disciplinary artist SistaNative (Seini Taumoepeau), contemporary Maori Dance troupe Toi Haka, and Samoan Dance troupe Tama Tatau, and the opening of art exhibitions Out of Sequence, Rize Of The Morning Star Photographic Exhibition, Bung Long Paia Ples and the Pasifika Youth Exhibition. Hospitality will be provided by the West Papuan community.

22 March from 11.00am   Where: FCAC
The Community Day will feature creative workshops for all ages, market and food stalls. Following a Pacific Welcome Ceremony, a performance stage by the Maribyrnong River will be the site for a FREE CONCERT featuring:

  • Rize of the Morning Star
  • Te Hononga O Nga Iwi
  • Nuholani and Mother of Pearl performers
  • Lisa Fa’alafi
  • Cocoa Jackson Lane
  • Tama Tatau
  • SistaNative (Emcee)

The extensive creative workshops program will include Niuean Weaving, Maori Weaving, Log Drumming, Oration, Hula, Ukelele, Print Making, Headdress Making and children’s activities. There will also be a Reading Room and Photo Booth open to the public.



When:  three Tuesdays – 4, 11 & 18 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where: FCAC Jack Kennedy Room

Master Bilum Weaver Vicki Kinai will deliver a series of three workshops over February/March that have been developed by Vicki to teach the ancient technique of Bilums. Over the course of the workshops participants will learn how to roll their own rope and construct their very own Bilum!! Vicki Kinai is a Melbourne-based Fibre Artist, Melanesian Languages and Cultural Trainer, Exhibitor, Performer and Teacher. She hails from the village of Pitwa, located Southeast of Mt. Hagen town in Papua New Guinea. BOOK HERE.


When: four Tuesdays – 25 February, 4, 11 & 18 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where:  FCAC Basement Theatre

‘Mother of Pearl ’ is an inter-generational dance and weaving project for Pacific daughters of all ages. A safe, fun and engaging space for women and their daughters to gather, learn and exchange cultural knowledges. Learn a dance routine and how to weave your own costumes with Pacific workshop facilitators Fipe Keanu (Dance), Tiffany Le Nevez (Dance) and Kui Taukilo (Weaver). Hard core laughter and mega fun is guaranteed!. Drawing on the strengths of Pacific oral traditions ‘Mother of Pearl’ is designed to bring together mamas and daughters, including mothers with daughters of Pacific heritage, in a shared and uplifting learning space. The workshops will culminate in a short performance alongside Tahitian/Hawaiian Dance Troupe ‘Nuholani‘ as part of the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festivals’ Community Day event Saturday 22nd March. BOOK HERE.


When:  two Tuesdays – 25 February, 11 March, 6:00pm-9:00pm   Where: FCAC Artlife Studio

CPAF are offering a series of Pacific youth-focused workshops that will be delivered throughout February and March. Participants will learn about the cultural significance of traditional Pacific motifs and how contemporary artists draw on their heritage and will be encouraged to create works that will be displayed as part of the Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival at Footscray Community Arts Centre. Workshops will be targeted at young people with Pacific Islander heritage and will engage participants in processes that blend popular contemporary art techniques including stenciling, paste-up street art, mask & headdress making and print making. All workshops will be delivered by artists of Pacific Islander heritage who bring their expertise and cultural knowledge to provide opportunities for participants to include culturally specific motifs and design into their final product. BOOK HERE.


FONOFALE [meeting house]

When: 12 March, 6.30-8.30pm Where: Wyndham Art Gallery, 177 Watton St, Werribee.

This Solo Exhibition by Fono McCarthy will consist of an installation of lightweight vessels [or barges] made from wood that gives a sense of flight, float and travel, they reference a symbol of activating the VA [space] representing the core principle in which these barges activate and transport knowledge. Special Performance by Grace Vanilau. More information HERE.


When: 27 March, 6.30-830pm Where: Blak Dot Gallery, 413 Lygon St, East Brunswick.

Curated by Grace Vanilau and Jacob Tolo – ‘A Circle to Weave In’ (ACTWI)- brings together 3 highly respected Pacific weavers (using traditional and contemporary techniques) and a Pacific multi-media artist in a cross-disciplinary exploration of traditional craft and digital experimentation. Several workshops, held at Blak Dot gallery, leading up to the exhibition will be open to all wishing to learn traditional weaving. More information HERE.


When: two Saturdays – 8 & 15 March Where: Blak Dot Gallery, 413 Lygon St, East Brunswick.

Lei making carries not only a blessing and tangible beauty, but also represents the giving of time and love as each one is hand-woven with care. Four Weaving Facilitators of Pacific heritage will offer participants the opportunity to learn 4 different adaptations of Lei’s, drawing on traditional Pacific weaving techniques. Workshop participants are welcome to contribute to a Lei wall installation as part of ‘A Circle to Weave In’ exhibition. The launch will be on the 27th March 2014. BOOK HERE.


When: three Saturdays – 1, 8 & 15 March Where: SIGNAL, Flinders Walk, Melbourne.

A FREE visual arts project for young Melbourne Pacific Islanders aged between 13-21 years. Participants will learn skills in stencil, visual art, camera operation and photoshop with Pacific Islander Artists. @ Signal, Flinders Walk, Northbank, Melbourne VIC 3001. Behind Flinders St Station towards Sandridge Bridge. BOOK HERE.

The Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival 2014 is supported by Arts Victoria, Victorian Multicultural Commission, Maribyrnong City Council, Blak Dot Gallery, Signal, City of Melbourne, Rize of the Morning Star, Victoria Maori Wardens, and Copyright Agency Limited Cultural Fund. 

For the full Contemporary Pacific Arts Festival program – including workshops, visual art exhibitions, satellite events and bookings, please visit: