Give it a rest

An open letter to The Australian, regarding their coverage of the 18C debate.

By Nick McKim, Senator for Tasmania

Dear Australian,

I write to you from a bunker in Tasmania, too afraid to step outside my door as a 50-something white man of some means, worried that the Human Rights Commission will see me and bundle me in a van.

Presumably they will issue me with several 18C lawsuits and wrap me and my family in red, or heaven forfend, green tape. Maybe they'll even make me Not Say Really Racist Things.

But seriously, being a straight white bloke in Australia certainly isn’t getting any more difficult. Not that this fact is often made clear in your newspaper, especially in your coverage of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. Which is why I'm writing to you today.

Honestly. Give it a rest.

Crikey recently calculated that your newspaper has dedicated around 135,000 words to this topic. Bill Leak has managed to draw 20 cartoons about himself.

Were one to read those 135,000 words aloud, it would take more than 17 hours to get through them.

That's longer than the duration of a flight from Sydney to Dallas/Fort Worth. Imagine someone banging on about the same topic for an entire long-haul flight. That's how tedious it is to pick up a copy of The Australian these days.

Your newspaper is now that drunk uncle at Christmas lunch who no one wants to talk to because he gives unsolicited opinions about "New Australians" and "women these days".

Interestingly, 18C has not led to the mass incarceration of racist uncles. Perhaps you should ponder that conundrum when you're tucking into your Christmas lunch.

Maybe, just maybe, you could deploy your newspaper's considerable resources and very capable journalists into more coverage of other issues.

Here are a few suggestions:

  • How 2016 is likely to be the warmest year on record and what that means for Australia
  • What to do about rising inequality
  • How we could better treat asylum seekers and refugees who have sought Australia's protection
  • The need for more investment in productive infrastructure

But it's not just the volume of words that prompted me to write this response.

Your coverage of this issue has been biased and self-serving.

The sheer vituperation and malice with which you've attacked your imagined opponents in this debate, particularly Gillian Triggs, has been shameful.

You have used your editorial columns as a bully pulpit.

Indeed, your newspaper's previously admirable coverage of indigenous affairs has been literally whitewashed by a bunch of blokes who seemingly just want to use racist slurs without consequence. 

You have cherry-picked a few cases to pretend that freedom of speech has disappeared, and that yours is the sole voice of reason in a world gone mad.

If you were actually the warriors for freedom of speech that you have styled yourself as, you’d be campaigning for a Bill of Rights, defamation reform, abolishing the secrecy provisions of the Border Force Act, and banning SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation).

Instead, the continuing presence of Bill Leak at your paper, not to mention your publication of the frightening eugenicist views of Gary Johns, make it clear that freedom of speech on race issues is under no serious threat at Holt Street, Surry Hills, or anywhere else in the country.

If you doubt this, spend a few minutes checking out the comments on one of Pauline Hanson’s Facebook posts.

Best,

Nick McKim