Thoughts on what it means to offend

In the recent debates in the senate over Section 18C in the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975, they’re trying to change the wording over what it means to discriminate against someone and omit the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’. The Liberal government has proposed these changes and put them forward because of the liberal ideals from the Enlightenment that they hold. These being limited government and protecting individuals freedoms, in this case it’s the freedom of speech.

Now here are my issues with this. When John Stuart Mill was talking about liberty and freedom in his book On Liberty, he talks about this idea of a ‘harm principle’. This basically denotes that you are free to do whatever you want until it harms others, then the government has a right to step in. From historical use of propaganda we can see that offending an insulting someone causes fear and psychological harm. So the literal writers and creators of liberalism admitted to limits on liberty and free speech and to offend and insult come under these limitations. This begs the question whether the Liberal Party are really doing it on means of liberty and free speech or it’s just some middle aged white Anglo-Saxon men upset that they can’t say racist things publicly.

My other issue with the proposed changes to the act is that parliament is elected to represent the will of the majority, and I do understand that the Liberal Party hold the elected majority, however only 9.7% of Australians wish to change the wording of the Act to eliminate the words offend and insult. They are not acting on the will of the majority they are acting on pressure from the media shock jocks like Andrew Bolt and politicians like George Brandis who famously said that people have a “right to be bigots”.

I hope I explained my thoughts clearly and this was understandable, politics and current affairs are of the utmost importance in my educational experience and I wish to not stop learning. For those Australian Citizens, this debate affects everyone and to help inform is all I want to try to do.


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