Background to the concept of race

The context

The word ‘race’ is an unusual word and needs to be understood in its particular historical context.

The word came into common usage during a period in which two important changes were occurring: the first is a period of ‘colonialism’ and ‘colonisation’[1], where technologically advanced European countries were seeking to dominate and benefit from their control over less advanced countries; the second (which was happening around same time) was an extended period of scientific debate and investigation into the origins of life on earth, which culminated in the 19th century in the theory of the evolution of the species.


During the period of debate among scientists about the possibility that life, rather than being the result of some sort of grand design, could simply have ‘evolved’ from a series of accidental changes occurring to particular ‘species’ being continually tested and challenged by the need for those species to fight for their existence in a harsh world where only the fittest survive, some quasi-scientists associated with the colonisers promoted the concept that the human species was also broken up into a series of ‘sub-species’ which came to be known as ‘races’.


For the colonisers this notion of ‘race’ was very useful because it provided justification for the domination of one group of people or nation over another and it soon entered into languages, as a natural way for people to view the colonised peoples.

Scientific rejection of the sub-species

However, it did not take long for the notion of ‘race’ to be completely discredited, scientifically.


As early as the 1830s, Charles Darwin, in his study of the finches of the Galápagos Islands, proved the existence of these sub-species, but also proved that a ‘sub-species’ was nothing like the ‘races’ being proposed by the quasi-scientists for the human species. Even then, it was obvious to the scientists of the day that the human species had no sub-species at all, was completely uniform as a species, and was one of the most uniform species of any species on earth, proving that there must have been considerable interaction between humans over the millions of years of their development as a species. Although differing somewhat in appearance, these differences were minor and superficial and genetically meaningless and mainly social and cultural in origin.

This might have been the end of the matter. But 'race' had other (social and political) reasons to be employed, and remains with us to the present day.

The purpose of racial distinctions

But does all this really matter, anyway? Why do we have to be so scientific about things? Why can’t we just agree on what we mean when we classify people into races?

It matters a great deal. The concept of ‘race’ is not just an easy short-hand way of describing how society works. The key function of the concept of ‘race’ has always been the attempt by one group of humans to dominate another. By dividing up the world in this manner, there is an attempt to brand one race as ‘superior’ and another as ‘inferior’, thereby providing some legitimacy to political and social processes that would otherwise be seen as completely unethical.

Colonisation provides an excellent example, but is not the only context for considering the risks to humanity of ‘race’ and racism.

Colonisation largely meant the ‘racially superior’ stealing the resources and wealth of the ‘racially inferior’ and destroying their ‘inferior’ social, religious, historical and cultural infrastructure and replacing it with more ‘superior’, more sophisticated, more modern, more progressive ideas and structures. Once you embark on this process, the concept of ‘racial inferiority’ leads almost naturally to the notion that certain human lives on the planet are of little worth or value, and from there it is a small step to genocide (see below).

Modern uses of race - 1960s-70s

In modern times, during a period of heightened awareness promoted by the colonisation of poorer countries by richer countries, ‘race’ was far too useful a concept to give up without a fight. Indeed, the notion of ‘race’ was used politically by powerful proponents in first world countries for more than 100 years after Darwin, and was still vibrant in Britain and the US even as late as the 1960s, when concepts of ‘race relations’ and ‘race riots’ and ‘racial tolerance’ and ‘racial purity’ dominated the political scene. See, for example, in the United Kingdom, Enoch Powell MP's "Rivers of Blood" speech 1968 on immigration, which led to tens of thousands of middle class voters marching in the street with their British flags alongside far right National Front party suppoters, new nazis, calling for a shipping out of immigrants back to their original country.


1967 National Front http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Front_%28UK%29 which brought out demonstrations by nationalists, and increasing support in the electoral process of racists.

1977 Anti Nazi League http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anti-Nazi_League, demonstrations against the National Front and a fall in electoral support for the National Front.

Early 1980s, emerging British National Party "voluntary resettlement whereby immigrants and their descendants are afforded the opportunity to return to their lands of ethnic origin." http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_National_Party


Some notes on how we got to the Racial Discrimination Act:

Australia - The ugly head of racism

Recently in Australia racism reared its ugly head with a series of openly racist articles by journalist and blogger Andrew Bolt.

The methods adopted by Bolt are the methods adopted by racists throughout the colonial period, which were highlighted by the Federal Court in their ruling on a matter Between: Pat Eatock and Andrew Bolt and The Herald And Weekly Times before Judge: J Bromberg (See Bromberg's Order dated 28 September 2011 http://www.austlii.edu.au/cgi-bin/sinodisp/au/cases/cth/FCA/2011/1103.ht...). The offenses committed were in a series of articles by Bolt published in the Herald & Weekly Times newspapers and in blog articles on individuals (the Court refers to the individuals held up for criticism and intimidation and ridicule in Bolt's articles, such as Cole, Sax, Winch, Behrendt, Heiss, Eatock, Clarke, O’Donoghue, Wayne and Graham Atkinson, Browning) who Bolt said should not be accepted as true 'Aborigines' (See Notes below) because of the colour of their skin and who were walking away from the benefits of true assimilation and only calling themselves 'Aborigines' in order to gain advantage from the state in the form of positions and/or hand-outs, etc.

READ the Federal Court findings which are detailed but easy to read and give a fine evaluation of Bolt's methods and intent.

The methods employed by Bolt included

  • presenting opinion as facts in a manner that an ordinary reader would find it difficult or impossible to know the difference,
  • presenting as fact the assertion that the individuals he was focussing on had chosen to identify as Aboriginal, that their choices were not genuine and that they were driven by ulterior motives including career and political aspirations,
  • hiding the true facts because they did not support his case,
  • presenting as 'fact' statements that were in fact 'non-factual', 'not-true', 'factually-wrong', 'erroneous', 'untrue', 'derisory', 'suggestive', 'racist' and 'trivial' (which I will refer to as 'lies', but if you want to know what I mean by 'lies', see the detail of the Federal Court ruling).

The Court identified the main purpose of the articles as being to address the race, ethnicity and colour (as an indicator of "race or racial attribute") of those people [s.318] with a view to "convey(ing) a message about” that topic including that "the people concerned are not sufficiently of Aboriginal race, colour or ethnicity." [ibid.] Hon. Bromberg concluded that "

  1. In my view, even outside of political discourse, freedom of expression is not merely a freedom to speak inoffensively:[...]. But there are areas of discourse where incivility is less acceptable, including because it is more damaging to social harmony.[...]
  2. [...] freedom of speech is not limited to expression which is polite or inoffensive. However, the minimisation of harm [...] of involves a restraint upon unnecessarily inflammatory and provocative language and gratuitous insults. [...]
  3. [...] the language utilised in the Newspaper Articles was inflammatory and provocative. The use of mockery and derision was extensive. The tone was often cynical. There is no doubt that the Newspaper Articles were designed to sting the people in the ‘trend’ and in particular those identified therein. The language was not simply colourful, as Mr Bolt’s counsel described it. It was language chosen by Mr Bolt in writing articles intended to confront those that he accused with “the consequences of their actions” and done with the expectation that they would be both “offended” and “upset” and in the hope that they would be “remorseful” (the words quoted are Mr Bolt’s).
  4. [...] the Newspaper Articles contain gratuitous references. The emphasis on colour was gratuitous. [...] the specific and general comments made contributed to the disrespectful [...] and [...] intimidatory effect of the articles.
  5. The extent of mockery and inflammatory language utilised by Mr Bolt to disparage many of the individuals which the Newspaper Articles deal with, far exceeded that which was necessary to make Mr Bolt’s point. The treatment of Mr McMillan and Mr Mellor are perhaps the most potent examples. The articles are replete with comments and a derisive tone that have little or no legitimate forensic purpose to the argument propounded and in the context of the values which the RDA seeks to protect are not justified, [...]
  6. [...] the strong language utilised by the Newspaper Articles and the disrespectful manner in which those articles dealt with those identified will have heightened the intimadatory impact of the conduct. I regard that impact as a particularly pernicious aspect of the s 18C conduct in the context of what the RDA seeks to achieve. That young Aboriginal persons or others with vulnerability in relation to their identity, may be apprehensive to identify as Aboriginal or publicly identify as Aboriginal, as a result of witnessing the ferocity of Mr Bolt’s attack on the individuals dealt with in the articles, is significant to my conclusion that in writing the articles, Mr Bolt failed to honour the values asserted by the RDA. [...]
  1. Mr Bolt is an experienced journalist. He has high level communication skills. His writing displays a capacity to cleverly craft language to intimate a message. I consider it highly unlikely that in carefully crafting the words utilised by him in the Newspaper Articles, he did not have an understanding of the meaning likely to be conveyed by those words to the ordinary, reasonable reader. I am satisfied that he understood that the Newspaper Articles will have conveyed the imputations which I have found were conveyed to the reasonable ordinary reader. At the very least, I am well satisfied that Mr Bolt understood that at least one meaning conveyed by the Newspaper Articles was that the Aboriginality of the people in the ‘trend’ was questionable. I need not consider for current purposes, whether Mr Bolt would have appreciated the imputations conveyed to the group members. That might be a relevant and necessary consideration in other cases.
  2. In writing those parts of the Newspaper Articles which conveyed the imputations which I have found were conveyed to the ordinary reader, with the understanding which I attribute to Mr Bolt, I find that Mr Bolt plainly intended to convey a message about the Aboriginal identity of the people he wrote about. In those circumstances I have no doubt that one of the reasons which motivated Mr Bolt was his desire to convey a message about the Aboriginality and thus the race, ethnic origin and colour of the people dealt with by the imputations. I am satisfied that Mr Bolt wrote those parts of the Newspaper Articles which convey the imputations, including because of the race, ethnic and origin and colour of the people who are the subject of them.
  3. I am firmly of the view that a safer and more reliable source for discerning Mr Bolt’s true motivation is to be found in the contents of the Newspaper Articles themselves rather than in the evidence that Mr Bolt gave, including the denials made by him as to his motivation.
  4. What Mr Bolt wrote was either written contemporaneously with or proximate to, the formation of Mr Bolt’s motivation. Not surprisingly, given the lapse of time, Mr Bolt had some difficulty recalling his thinking processes at the time of writing and at times during his evidence frankly admitted that he was “reconstructing”. Additionally, having observed Mr Bolt, I formed the view that he was prone to after-the-fact rationalisations of his conduct. I note in this respect in particular that Mr Bolt’s stated motivation for writing the Articles evolved during his cross-examination. I deal with that matter further at [362] and [444]. .[2]

The Court looked at the particular cases of individuals addressed in Bolt's articles, Ms Anita Heiss, Ms Bindi Cole, Mr Geoff Clark, Dr Wayne Atkinson, Mr Graham Atkinson, Professor Larissa Behrendt, Ms Leeanne Enoch, Mr Mark McMillan, and Ms Pat Eatock, and in each case found someone who

  • is an Aboriginal person within the conventional understanding of that description,
  • was raised as Aboriginal,
  • genuinely self-identified as Aboriginal,
  • has Aboriginal ancestry,
  • has communal recognition as an Aboriginal person,
  • did not consciously choose to be Aboriginal,
  • had not improperly used his/her Aboriginal identity to advance his/her career,
  • is a person committed to his/her Aboriginal community,
  • is entitled to regard his/her achievements as well deserved rather than opportunistically obtained, and
  • who felt offended, humiliated and insulted by the Articles or parts thereof.

What is race?

The Commonwealth Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which defines how people are expected to deal with the concept of race and racial discrimination and vilification in Australia, contains no definition of ‘race’ or ‘racial’ or ‘racism’.  This should not surprise us, because the word ‘race’ is meaningless. As we have seen, the concept of a human sub-species was completely discredited by Darwin. This results in the word ‘race’ having no biological or scientific meaning.[3] This lack of biological or other scientific meaning makes the concept of ‘race’ social in character; the word can be used to mean anything that anyone might want it to mean.

Of course, some writers pushing their own agenda, such as Bolt, have tried to retain the quasi-scientific status of ‘race’ by latching on to it some notion of the physical. People who try to promote the concept of race do so by choosing arbitrary distinctions, such as basing human grouping upon certain human physical differences, such as skin colour, while ignoring all the human physical similarities, such as size, weight, height, foot size or human abilities such as athletic prowess, intelligence, creativity or achievement. This arbitrariness should not surprise us, either: Since the species of human is so uniform, these distinctions can only be arbitrary.

The Federal Court ruling.

"The manner in which Aboriginal people have identified, and have been identified, by others since the British settlement of Australia is a background matter of some significance ..." s.167 .[4] 

The Federal Court stated that

"The Australian Law Reform Commission’s 2003 Report on the Protection of Human Genetic Information considered whether a biological basis for the identification of a race was justifiable. It noted (at [36.41]) that one of the outcomes of the Human Genome Project and other scientific research is “that there is no meaningful genetic or biological basis for the concept of ‘race’”. Human beings are 99.9 per cent genetically identical. Some 95 per cent of human genetic variation occurs within racial groups whereas, on average, a genetic variation of five per cent occurs between racial groups. The ALRC observed at [36.42] that: It is now well-accepted among medical scientists, anthropologists and other students of humanity that ‘race’ and ‘ethnicity’ are social, cultural and political constructs, rather than matters of scientific ‘fact’." [s.168].[5]

Is Bolt a 'racist'?

If 'racism' is offensive conduct under the Act, and a 'racist' is a person who knowingly, wilfully (18D) and without due cause (18C) commits the offense, then Bolt is a racist. The Court applied the following test:

  1. Section 18D assumes the existence of offensive conduct. That is, conduct which satisfies the elements of s 18C and that would be unlawful if not exempted by s 18D. Section 18D asks whether the offensive conduct (conduct that meets the requirements of s 18C) was done reasonably and in good faith in the pursuit of the activities identified in s 18D(a), (b) or  (c).
  2. There are two activities identified in s 18D(c). They are the making or publishing of a fair and accurate report and the making or publishing of a fair comment. The report or comment must concern an event or matter of public interest. Mr Bolt and HWT rely upon s 18D(c)(ii). The question raised here is whether the conduct which I have found meets the requirements for a contravention of s 18C (“the s 18C conduct”) was done reasonably and in good faith in the pursuit of the making of a fair comment.
  3. At common law, fair comment exists as a defence to a defamatory comment in order to facilitate freedom of expression on matters of public interest. ... The fair comment defence at common law extends to protect opinions, even those that reasonable people would consider to be abhorrent. [...] “fair” does not mean objectively reasonable.
  4. Like all good things, freedom of expression has its limits and that is also recognised by the common law defence of fair comment. Those limits are there to ensure that freedom of expression is not abused.[6]

The Abbott government's intention to repeal 18C

The Abbott government seems intent on repealing 18C, in an attempt to give racists like Bolt "freedom of speech", even though the reason why he lost in the Federal Court was not that his articles were offensive but because his articles failed fundamental principles established by common law. Attorney-General George Brandis can be seen in the Senate today telling his electorate:

"Mr, President, people do have a right to be bigots, you know! In a free country people do have a right to say things that other people find offensive, or insulting, or bigotted!",

[Note by SI: even though the Federal Court had properly and keenly embarked on an evaluation of Bolt's articles, in an attempt to assign an 18D exemption based on his right to be a bigot. They openly applied this right, and Bolt's articles came up wanting. The Court could not give exemption. It was not his 'bigotry' but his 'racism', his lying and his failure to properly present his case and allow his readers to evaluate his case and come up with their own conclusion, his presenting his opinions as facts, his failure to provide the true facts because they would not help his case, and his providing falsehoods as facts, which led to his losing in the Federal Court.]

[George Brandis goes on:] "Nevertheless, Senator Peris, may I point out to you, that s.18C in its current form does not prohibit racial vilification;"

[Note by SI: Then why he wants to get rid of it, he does not say]

[George Brandis goes on:] "Senator Wong interjects, yes George (she says), you go out there and defend the right to be bigotted (sic.), well, you know Senator Wong, I think a lot of the things I have heard you say in this chamber over the years are to my way of thinking extraordinarily bigotted and extraordinarily ignorant but I would defend your right to say them; that is what freedom of speech means!"

In the Lower House Tanya Plibersek asked in her question to the Prime Minister that "18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has protected the Australian community from divisive and destructive effects of racially motivated hate speech while preserving freedom of speech..."

[The Prime Minister answers Plibersek with the same failure to address the issues of 18C and 18D's present success in currently providing exemption in order to preserve the freedom of speech] "Well Madam Speaker of course this government is determined to try to ensure that Australia remains a free and fair and tolerant society, where bigotry and racism have no place; of course; of course; but we also want this country to be a country in which freedom of speech can be enjoyed [...] and sometimes freedom of speech will be speech that upsets people, which offends people. It is in the nature of free speech that sometimes some people will not like it; it is in the nature of free speech that sometimes some people won't like it; MS, I don't like what Members opposite have to say, quite a lot, but I fully defend their right to say it."

Listen to Brandis & Abbott on video & Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/attorneygeneral-george-brandis-people-do-have-a-right-to-be-bigots-20140324-35dj3.html#ixzz2wrxRLPVw

What's wrong with Abbott's position?

The days of Pauline Hanson as independent federal MP 1996-1998 and as leader of One Nation 1997-2003 proved that racism is widespread in Australia and a politician focussing on anti-immigration policies and anti-Aboriginal policies can whip up considerable support for a far-right agenda. Her success in the Queensland state election returning 11 members in 1998 rang the warning bells across the political divide, and she had strong support in other states, which were proven by thousands coming out to greet her in her travels around Australia. The LNP under Howard saw her as a real threat and took on an active campaign led by Abbott to discredit her and wipe her off the face of the Australian "two-party preferred" political landscape. Howard stole many of her policies in an attempt to get back LNP voters that she had stolen from him. Many of the policies she promoted have been adopted by both parties in one form or another. The getting rid of ATSIC and the Intervention in the north, for example, supported by both main parties, both started with her. The comments in the parliament today about the "right to be a bigot" come directly from Hanson's mouth, following her maiden speech, when she said (following Howard's refusal to censure her racism and bigotry) that "Australians are now free to discuss issues without fear of being branded as a bigot or racist!"




Abbott has revealed today in Parliament the real meaning of his promised support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Racism will become a new norm under Abbott and he may well receive widespread support for it, as Hanson did. For Abbott the real issues are political survival and nothing else.

Of course, the impact of the removal of 18C is not clear. There is no guarantee that, by just getting rid of 18C, racists like Bolt will fare any better in a court of law. This is because 18D and 18C have had influence on common law provisions and many of the references made in evaluating his racist articles in the Federal Court were common law references and not particular to the Act. We have to assume, though, that this is just wishful thinking on my part; that he will be given a freedom to vilify that would have been un-supported under 18C. And we should decide on our need to oppose this action by the Abbott government according to that assumption.

But for me, the real danger can be seen in the Enoch Powell days in the UK. Powell's rantings in the House of Commons might not have made him any friends in the Conservative Party but, like Hanson, his racism and bigotry led to the emergence of an active far right, promoting violent interaction with an immigrant population and mainstreaming racism by middle class nationalists and working class nazis, that have continued in Britain to this day. In Australia, even though it is very early days in the Abbott government, racists have already taken heart by the rantings of Brandis and Abbott on so-called "freedom of speech", and if we are not careful we will be going down the same path as UK in the 70s.

Final point: Connections to genocide

Finally, a philosophical point on the need to address past wrongs.

The connection between colonisation and genocide is not just theoretical, but has real and actual historical resonance: Historians describe periods of ‘slavery’, where millions had their humanity reduced to a product to be sold on the market and periods of ‘complete genocide’, where millions were seen to stand in the way of progress and needed to be eliminated. There are many examples: in South America and the Caribbean, for example, in the 17th and 18th centuries all members of the previous society were completely eliminated from the new society by the colonisers, to be replaced by outposts of the colonial homeland in the case of South America, or to be replaced by slaves in the case of the Caribbean. In other cases this genocide wasn’t as ‘total’ but when historians investigated the setting up of other new colonies they found a ‘virtual genocide’, such as in the United States or Australia, where the land was seen as ‘virgin’ (in the US) or ‘uninhabited’ (in Australia) and so the huge numbers of the old society that were killed by the colonisers went almost unnoticed by the new society and those that survived this genocide were to be ‘assimilated’ into the new society in a way that showed no respect for their past social attributes and/or cultural achievements.

But isn’t all this a thing of the past? Isn’t colonisation all over now? Haven’t we moved on?

Even today the concept of ‘race’ is still used to justify huge acts of genocide. As recent as 1994, in Rwanda, 800,000 people were massacred because of their ‘racial inferiority’. This was not an act of a coloniser, but an attempt by one group of to gain control over society at the expense of another; the concept of ‘race’ provided some sort of perverse ethical justification. It is interesting to note that the difference between how the first world dealt with these 800,000 deaths, compared to the 3,030 deaths that came to be known as the ‘9/11 deaths’ in the US in 2002, proves that ‘race’ still plays a huge part in the thinking of the first world, as well. The home website of the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy (ICD) shows 23 recent or current ACTS OF GENOCIDE COMMITTED SINCE THE ADOPTION OF THE CONVENTION ON THE PREVENTION AND PUNISHMENT OF THE CRIME OF GENOCIDE IN 1951 http://www.ipahp.org/index.php?en_acts-of-genocide. Australia is at the top of the list! Nothing has happened since Darwin to indicate that genocide will not continue to happen or that ‘race’ will not continue to provide the only possible justification for these otherwise ethically unjustifiable atrocities.

-Steve Irons 24 March, 2014



Notes to assist in a discussion about Racism

abbo = a racist term still found in swear words & words of abuse in Australian culture
aboriginal = original or first people; in the colonial context, aboriginal populations were mistreated and subjected to genocide (some being eliminated completely), in order to gain access to the land and existing resources and to gain control over and marginalise or eliminate existing indigenous societies; aboriginal therefore can refer to indigenous populations in Canada, the US, the West Indies, the Americas, Africa, anywhere where original societies or first people were marginalised and replaced by a new ruling elite, bringing their own working class (or in the case of certain parts of the US and the West Indies their slaves) with them, and is not restricted to the 'Aboriginals' in Australia; aboriginal populations have special rights because of their place and position in society before the colonial period and their mistreatment under colonialism.
Aboriginal = a recent defiant and proud adoption by Australian indigenous groups of a name that was assigned to them by a colonial ruling elite (a meaning that continued in Australia until the 1960s/1970s); adopting and providing new meaning to a name that had been used to justify marginalisation and acts of genocide against their peoples. It is said that this is in a process of change at present.
Aborigines = Australian original/first people; the name given to the existing indigenous populations by a colonial ruling elite keen to subject them to genocide in order to gain access to the land and existing resources and to gain control over and to marginalise and/or eliminate completely the existing indigenous population. The reason why this was necessary is because to call the indigenous people 'Australian' would be to recognise from the outset certain rights that we have come to understand today as inalienable rights of indigenous populations and the colonialists as the 'interlopers'. To call them "the Aborigines" was to assign them a place in the history of Australia in which they were already seen as a 'past' from which colonial societies had already developed. The 'original' and the 'new'. Acts against the 'Aborigines', now recognised as classic acts of genocide, were acceptable because this elimination was already written into this concept of the 'past' being promoted by colonial governments. See Paul Keating's speech at Redfern http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhqAFLud228&feature=player_embedded#; See Kevin Rudd's "I'm Sorry" speech https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xiLnsFyAVqE
race discrimination = racial discrimination
racial discrimination = differences in treatment on the basis of characteristics which may be classified as racial, including skin colour, cultural heritage, and religion; Racial Discrimination Act 1975 makes racial discrimination unlawful in Australia
racial vilification = racial discrimination at work leading to particular forms of mistreatment of (an) individual(s) that is against the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 and actionable by the employee and/or union
racism = organised political campaign in society against victims suffering generally from racial discrimination to have them treated differently, to forbid their entry, to have them expelled, etc. and generally increase discrimination and racial vilification
racist term = terms that have played an important part in long term, systemic racism and have become embedded in racist culture: For example part-Aboriginal, coloured
crime against humanity = (as per Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court) acts when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack: (a) Murder; (b) Extermination; (c) Enslavement; (d) Deportation or forcible transfer of population; (e) Imprisonment or other severe deprivation of physical liberty in violation of fundamental rules of international law; (f) Torture; (g) Rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution, forced pregnancy, enforced sterilisation, or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity; (h) Persecution against any identifiable group or collectivity on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious, gender as defined in paragraph 3, or other grounds that are universally recognised as impermissible under international law, in connection with any act referred to in this paragraph or any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court; (i) Enforced disappearance of persons; (j) The crime of apartheid; (k) Other inhumane acts of a similar character intentionally causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health.
genocide = (as per Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court) an act committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
ethnic cleansing = a crime against humanity; a particular deportation or forcible transfer of population; the planned deliberate removal, by force or intimidation, from a specific territory of all persons perceived by the oppressor as being members of a particular ethnic group in order to render that area ethnically homogeneous; may be conducted at the same time as genocide
blind eye, (turn a) = Blind eye' can affect the country as a whole: No serious attempt has been made to describe the treatment of indigenous peoples in Australia by both State and Federal governments both in the past and the present as genocide even though if the same treatment occurred in a 'third world' country it would be. This is because to admit that it is would be to accept that current and previous malpractices in relation to indigenous populations are a crime against humanity with disastrous consequences for current and previous governments/territory administrators. Many now understand that it is, but we say nothing. While the PM now has said "I'm sorry!" in relation to the "removal of children" by previous governments (a classic act performed in genocide), as to a proper dealing with past and present treatment of indigenous populations as 'genocide', everyone turns a 'blind eye'. And 'blind eye' can affect the world as a whole: No serious attempt has been made to describe the dropping of atomic bombs on civilian populations by the US in 1945 as a war crime, even though if some rogue state performed the same malpractice today it would be, because to admit that it is would have disastrous consequences not just for those involved at the time, but also for the current US administration, with whom we seek to have an important and lasting friendship. If the UN were called upon to evaluate the US decision to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki against the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court they would have no choice but to admit that it was a serious war crime. Therefore, to maintain important ties with the most important country in the world, almost all other nations, including the nation upon which the war crime was perpetrated, prefer to turn a 'blind eye' and, as a result, the UN has never been asked to consider it. While everyone recognises that the event occurred, and that it was somehow wrong, no-one ever speaks of it as a 'war crime'. The main reason for treating genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity differently is the personalising of the crime by the UN and their failure to recognise a statutory limitation, meaning that it is going to impact enormously on current administrations, charges may be laid and past and present officials taken to The Hague, and serious reparations will need to be paid.
Indigenous = officially (by associations & NGOs) recognised as a member of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander populations; in recent decades a racist term 'indigenous to' has been turned into a term of inclusion and identity and it is being used world-wide as a generic term that includes similar populations across the world
right = a right held by an individual or a group in society is an existing, unquestionable, recognised obligation on 'others' in society to act in a particular manner in relation to that individual or group, without question. The 'right' is a short-hand way of defining a 'general obligation' on the part of 'others'. If a person has a right to be heard then 'others' have an obligation to shut up and listen. If all have the right to association, then all 'others' have an obligation to respect that right and not interfere with an individual's association. There is a generality to a right which implies that it is related to the membership of a group whether or not in this instance it applies to an individual or a group or to the whole of society. A court may be called upon from time to time to guarantee an individual's right and impose the obligation on 'others' and punish them if they fail to satisfy the obligation implied by the right but a right is different to a legal obligation imposed by a court in relation to a claim. Though some rights are said to be inalienable and some alienable, it is generally true to say that if a right loses general recognition and support in society, it will cease to be a right and will become an onerous obligation imposed on 'others' by political power, legal authority or physical duress. A right generally exists regardless of such an event, although rights may change over time and such events may over time impact on the rights of particular groups in society, during periods of change. See human rights. In this list we have separated human rights into five basic types: employment rights, educational rights, community rights, familial rights, and political rights. Our assumption is that the issue of rights is not philosophically difficult; it has been known for centuries what the basic human rights are; our problem is the political will to make them fundamental to society; it may be difficult to philosophically prove these human rights to be inalienable but it matters little, because if you simply assume that they are and get these right, many ethical considerations that every nation on earth faces at present will become unnecessary.

[1] from the late 17th to the early 19th century,


[3] The Act implies that the concept of ‘race’ has some meaning, making it “unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people” because of their “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”, (Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) s.18C) OR e.g. referring to “an act involving a distinction based on, or an act done by reason of, the other person's race, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin” (Act s.9) implying that ‘race’ and e.g. ‘ethnic origin’ are somehow at a similar level of meaning, but it does not tell us what that meaning is.


[5] ibid.

[6] ibid.



The year 2015 marks the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth), Australia’s first federal human rights and anti-discrimination legislation.

- What is the historical background to the Racial Discrimination Act, and how has it evolved?

- What has been achieved since its introduction?

- What is the ongoing role of the Racial Discrimination Act in addressing racism?

- What outcomes have been achieved under the Racial Discrimination Act through conciliation and litgation?

- The Australian Human Rights Commission invites you to attend a conference in Sydney 19th-20th February 2015 that will explore these issues over two days.

REGISTER: https://www.humanrights.gov.au/rda40-conference-2015-40-years-racial-dis...

Tim Soutphommasane - Political philosopher and regular columnist

"Debates about race can often divide more than unite. Yet the contest over section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act has united Australians in one sense. There has been an emphatic affirmation of our commitment to racial tolerance.

"I welcome the federal government's decision not to proceed with repealing section 18C. In ruling out changes to the Act, the government has taken heed of widespread concerns about its proposed reform. These have come not just from multicultural and Aboriginal communities. The legal profession, human rights experts, psychologists and public health professionals have all objected to weakening laws against racial vilification.

"According to information obtained by Professor Simon Rice of the ANU's law school, more than 76 per cent of submissions made about the government's exposure draft opposed the repeal of section 18C, with 20 per cent supporting the government's proposal. A Fairfax poll in April showed that 88 per cent of people believed it should remain unlawful to offend, insult or humiliate others because of race."

Dr Tim Soutphommasane is Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner.

Read more: http://www.theage.com.au/comment/in-bowing-to-public-opinion-pm-shows-go...

  1. 18C doesn't protect people from most forms of racism but if we lose it, what hope have we got of getting recognition for more severe cases?

  2. If we allow Australia to pretend that racism is a thing of the past, we will be many steps further from the justice which is already denied.

  3. Police brutality; racial profiling; children being removed instead of families being supported... This is the racism we need to be fighting.

  4. But if it's about 'hurt feelings' & preventing ppl talking about identity (which 18C does NOT impede) then we are, again, the enemies of Oz.

  5. This why our Govt likes to promote white millionaires as the saviours of Aboriginal people... 'To save us from ourselves, and you from us'.

    19 mins

    And justice wept...

      17 hrs
    1. Retweeted by

      And FTR, I am not seeking to paint anyone who believes in free speech as a “bigot”, & I take exception at the suggestion.

      Tweet text
      Image will appear as a link
    2. Nor do I 'peddle myths and lies' or seek to 'elicit publicity and sympathy for [my] grubby agendas'. . Very disappointing...

    3. You would be wise to remember, , that many you just smeared are the same ppl you are representing the interests of in the IAC.

    4. . I am hurt, offended, and insulted by your words... & I would never succeed in the courts if I took you under 18C of the RDA.

    5. . & I would never attempt to; just as u should never attempt to assert the motivations of those of us who oppose changing 18C.

2 mins

And 18C doesn't even help us address racism in Govt policies as they can (& do) just suspend the RDA whenever they want to pass racist laws.

7 hrs

Teachers of OZ history should read UNSUNG HERO by Trish Albert about Eddie Albert & Aboriginal involvement in wars

These quotes speak for themselves. An unbelievable bigot & racist, he is!

"The head of the Prime Minister’s indigenous council, Warren Mundine, rebuked the government over the changes, describing them as 'mad' and inadequate. 'I find the whole thing quite offensive,' Mr Mundine told The Australian.

“'I’m a strong defender of free speech, but I am bamboozled about why they are going down this road. This government has so many positive things to do, and they’ve been sidetracked on an issue that will take energy away from them and they will lose their credibility.

“'I find it strange you’d make an argument that everyone has a right to be a bigot. I thought civilisation had been moving on since the Second World War on this.'”

READ more: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/bigot-backlash-sours-to...

Vic Alhadeff The DRUM Wed 26 Mar 2014, 8:54am AEDT

"...the Federal Attorney-General's remark that everyone has the right to be bigoted not only problematic, but short-sighted and harmful. Everyone does have the right to be bigoted and to harbour racist views in private, but there is a critical difference between that and acting on those views and causing harm to others.

"That is where the limits of freedom are reached - and breached. Which renders the mooted repeal of Section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act a retrograde measure that significantly weakens protections against racist abuse that have been in place for almost two decades, including standing the test of time during the Howard administration.

"It sends a message that racism could effectively be given a free pass if uttered in the course of public discussion, while the message we should be hearing is how harmful racial bigotry can be to those against whom it is directed and how destructive it is to our society."

READ more: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-26/alhadeff-the-priority-should-be-ke...

Simon Rice ABC News Thu 27 Mar 2014, 3:46pm AEDT

"As it is currently drafted, Brandis's proposal prohibits a very narrow range of conduct, and allows a breathtakingly wide range of exceptions. Read the prohibition together with the exception, and almost anything goes. This would be the closest we've come to unconstrained racist speech in 20 years - since before the current law was enacted.

"Our current federal racial vilification law prohibits conduct (such as speech) that is done because of a person's race and that causes them harm: offence, insult, humiliation and intimidation. The proposed new law drops most of that and, instead, prohibits conduct that is likely to 'incite hatred' or 'intimidate'.

"The effect of this is that the proposed law does not prohibit race-based conduct that incites, for example, serious contempt or severe ridicule of a person, or revulsion towards them. Nor does it prohibit race-based conduct that causes offence, insult or humiliation."

READ more: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-03-27/rice-rights-for-holocaust-deniers/...

The Age March 28, 2014 Race Discrimination Commissioner

"As we consider the Federal Government’s exposure draft of changes to racial vilification laws, there should be one question above all that should guide our deliberation. What kind of society do we want Australia to be?

"Our laws are bound with our values. They express how we aspire to conduct our lives together. Like the many communities that have spoken this week, I have very serious concerns about proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. If enacted, they would severely weaken existing legal protections against racial vilification. They would embolden a minority with bigoted views to amplify their prejudice.

"Such developments would come at a high price. Unfortunately, the human cost of racism isn’t always appreciated in the debate about Section 18C. Too often, the matter has been reduced to a discussion about legal interpretation or philosophical principle. But we shouldn’t be talking about things in the abstract.

"Racism hurts its victims in real ways. As one Aboriginal community leader has said, 'racism makes our people sick'. Those exposed to racist abuse will testify that it can inflict mental and physical harm. It can wound your very dignity as a person. It is something that diminishes people’s freedom and their ability to participate in society.

"As it currently stands, the law allows people to hold others accountable for acts that offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate on the grounds of race. This doesn’t mean that anything offensive or insulting is against the law. The law only covers acts with a clear racial basis. It doesn’t extend to trivial slights.

The Conversation 1 April 2014, 12.01am AEST

"Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane will suggest today that the government’s proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act could harm Australia’s ability to most effectively engage with the Asian century.

"... Soutphommasane says that the principle of racial tolerance must continue to be defended as essential to the legislative architecture of a multicultural Australia.

"Were it not to be supported wholeheartedly 'we could end up as an Australia that is more insular and less able to flourish in the so-called Asian century'."


“'We may recognise that people in their heart of hearts may hold racial prejudices, but we knew enough to know that we shouldn’t be encouraging it,' Soutphommasane says.

“'It is only one small step from having thoughts of bigotry in one’s mind and expressing it as [an] outward act of racial discrimination.'”

READ more: http://theconversation.com/racial-law-change-could-affect-asian-engageme...

Turnbull says: "Let me first set out the relevant provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act as it stands (available online here):"

"The Government welcomes your views on this matter and they should be sent to s18cconsultation@ag.gov.au or:
Human Rights Policy Branch
Attorney-General's Department
3-5 National Circuit

READ more: http://www.malcolmturnbull.com.au/media/what-do-you-think-about-changes-...

The Act: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/rda1975202/

I find that what this government wants to do by amending the Racial Discrimination Act is deplorable and should be stopped immediately. What a backward step this is and this government is taking this country back to the days of  the early 1800 hundreds. Disgusting.

Thursday 27 March 2014 01.23 GMT

Warren Mundine warned against changes to the racial discrimination act. Photograph: IndigenousX

READ article: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/27/rracial-discriminat...

Steve - This is a first class synthesis of the critical information and context of the debate. It contains gems that are seldom presented and still less often explained in the MSM.

We are poorly served by politicians that use terms such as ‘race’ without sufficient understanding of what it implies and the context provided in your piece. 

‘Race’ was an old biological label of convenience that often used quite arbitrary physical differences or geography to separate out taxonomic groups. The label has been made all but redundant by molecular science, yet it has stuck given historical precedent and common use in the days before Darwin. Often archaic and subjective in its application to humans it has become mixed up with ideas of culture, religion, ethnicity, anatomy etc. that are virtually impossible for anyone to define objectively. As soon as you try, Pandora’s box is opened.

A sane politician treads lightly and with respect for history in such grey areas lest they wake the ugly tribal demons of division.

If you had power, you used to be able to define someone as coming from a different race arbitrarily and pretty much as it suited you. And it did suit many to do so in the past –those short on history and empathy and long on outrage don’t seem to get this.

For instance, much of the current wealth of the ‘establishment’ in the UK and other colonial countries was obtained through commodities (e.g. sugar, tobacco, rubber etc.) grown on the backs of, or taken from, colonies and lesser races. Those stately homes were purchased with the profits of enterprises and labour that used the dispossession of land, slavery and exploitation of 'other races' to generate wealth. Even after slavery ended; we still used developing countries for our resource 'sweatshops' and were happy with lesser rights, conditions and equity to be attributed to our conception of lesser races. Absolutely essential to the justification of this, past and present, was the concept of race, woven into a system of economics and privilege.

Those ‘races’ that benefited from this inequity are outrageously ignorant not to appreciate that they are not in a good moral position to dictate and enshrine a right to disparage other racial groups. Those exploited in the past never had any capacity for free speech to begin with. Free speech is hard to exercise when someone with a much larger voice is plugged into a megaphone and ramming their self-serving narrative down your throat.

It is a real shame that race has become a defining issue of human equality; we are certainly better off without concepts of race that play to tribalism. But picking at a recently formed scab is not a good strategy to assist healing. The current approach pushes people apart and ensures that race will long be the lens through which we look at equity and social issues. It was best to allow sleeping dogs lie.

Overall, it’s a nasty irony for people with power to be arguing that those without power should not be able to object to their race being re-defined; especially by middle aged white men of conservative ilk. This is exactly how we exploited ‘lesser races’ to begin with.

While we are all members of Homo sapiens sapiens, it’s kind of ironic that this means ‘wise human’ in Latin. Obviously not all of us are blessed with wisdom. 


A very interesting and thought provoking piece! Should be required reading for all Senior High a School students! We have to start with the education of our young for the young are not born racists nor are they bigots. They learn it! This sort of articles helps them to be able to react in an informed way when they hear racist or bigoted comments as they will in the home or in the community. With freedom of speech we should also be emphasising responsibility. We all have the right to live our lives in peace free from harassment, bullying and racist comments. If we use free speech laws to take away another's rights to live as described then we are being irresponsible.That should be the test on Free speech.

For starters. This resource being pulled into one page here is absolutely brilliant!  Thank you for doing this.

My concern about the repeal is not so much the racial vilification.  Not that I don't care about that, I most certainly do, though 'thankfully', education is helping with this issue, not to mention that there are many well established organisations that will be have an eagle eye on this issue both here in this country & internationally.  So I think even with the repeal, if it goes ahead, that the likes of a Bolt will still never in future be able to get away with what he previously has, the issue is way too highlighted now through media and life in general.

My concern is the little person.  We all know those people who think that Political Correctness has gone mad, are just seething & waiting to be able to say exactly what they 'think' and I am worried that this repeal encourages that sort of thinking.  Bigotry is not just race and Free Speech should not be abused at another's expense. 

We already have an issue in this nation that has gotten worse in recent years in regard to civil discourse and it will only be the powerful, wealthy & educated who will be able to defend themselves against bigotry.  There is already so much lack of respect for others, regardless of race, sex, religion, you name it.  I am seriously worried that it has permeated our society so badly and only see our AG advising us all that we have a RIGHT TO BE A BIGOT just compounding this.  What will our next generation look like on this path?

I wrote a snaky, obviously tongue in cheek rant about the 'common' side of this issue :(
This issue is so ludicrous ARGH!

Thanks Steve for such an in-depth analysis on race and race vilification. Our Australian past is underpinned by several hundred years of racist laws and policies. In Queensland, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were not given citizenship until 1967. The impact of colonisation has had a devastating impact on peoples and communities and many, many rights have still not been addressed.  In recent times we applauded Kevin Rudd's National Apology. It gave hope that maybe we had turned the corner on our racist past. 

It is now staggering to understand the imperative to amend the Racial Discrimination Act. When we talk about 'freedom of speech," we need to understand this freedom is not equal. People from minority groups have always been subjected to racist abuse. It is up to the government that adequate laws are in place to protect the vulnerable not give greater tools of abuse to the powerful.

Would love to see you blog developed into a submission to government.


Comments from the Age March 26, 2014 - 11:42AM


"The head of Tony Abbott's indigenous advisory council Warren Mundine has urged the prime minister to drop controversial plans to amend the Racial Discrimination Act.

"But Mr Mundine says he won't walk away from the advisory council in protest."


"Mr Mundine said society made it quite clear that racism and bigotry were unacceptable.

"He said he had not considered standing down in protest as there was a big job to do in closing the gap, and getting people into jobs and education.

"'I am not going to throw that out in an argument on this issue,' he said.

'We have had conversations about it and our advice to the prime minister was that they should not be going down this track.'


"Labor MP Ed Husic, the first Muslim to be appointed to the frontbench in the Australian parliament, said the racial discrimination laws had held the nation in good stead for 20 years.

"The changes were more than just symbolic, he said.

"It actually tries to encourage people to test the outer limits of how they can offend and cause division."


"Labor deputy leader Tanya Plibersek said no one in Australia agreed with the government on this issue.

"'It is a sad thing that one of the first priorities of this new government is to make it easier to racially abuse people,' she said."

READ more: http://news.theage.com.au/breaking-news-national/abbott-adviser-queries-...

Very in-depth analysis, Steve. Yes, we took different approaches but I think we agree.

READ more: http://teamoyeniyi.com/2013/11/12/how-does-a-racist-hide-racism/