Attorney-General George Brandis. Image via.
Australia's Attorney-General, George Brandis, this week extolled the virtues of free speech, telling parliament that “people do have a right to be bigots, you know.” This comes as the government seeks to repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act – the bit that says it’s unlawful to racially insult people.
It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:
(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and
(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
Seeing as we no longer need this law, and have a shiny new spokesperson for bigotry, we took to the streets of Melbourne to see if people agree that our freedom of speech extends to any dickhead with an opinion. Do people have the right to be a bigot?
Celeste. 25. Dancer.
Celeste: We shouldn’t single people out for having those opinions. We should feel compassion that they might not realise how hurtful it is.
If I said that was a load of hippie crap, would you say I’m entitled to that opinion?
Sure! I’d discuss it with you. Challenge me, man. I’ll take you on!
So you think we have the right to say and think whatever we want, even if it makes people feel terrible?
Nobody has the right to encroach on what you believe – but if that belief is debilitating somebody else’s ability to live in a fair and safe environment, then it’s not right.
Jeremy. Conceptual artist.
VICE: Hey Jeremy, do you think people have the right to be a bigot?
Jeremy: I think we’re free to have whatever opinions we choose, but people have a right not to be attacked. People’s right to not be attacked, even verbally, supersedes somebody’s right of expression.
Well said. But what about on the other side? Do you ever tell people when you don’t like them?
Yeah I do. But the emotional body is like a sense, and it requires refinement. If the thoughts I express aren’t progressive or constructive, it’s a signpost that I have more to learn about myself.
You’re very enlightened.
I don’t know about that…
Sophie. 19. Student.
Hey Sophie, do you think we have the right to be a bigot?
Well, sometimes you might not have had the opportunity to be as educated as everyone else, in which case it’s not really your choice.
What if you were educated by the KKK, is it still not your choice?
Well, these people probably haven’t had the freedom of mind to experience the full spectrum of how people co-exist.
Well, assuming you’ve experienced the full spectrum, which do you think is the best race?
Women aren’t a race.
Well, we’re a force to be reckoned with.
Rhys. 25. Music student.
Hey Rhys, do people have the right to be bigoted?
If you look at it politically, then yeah you can. I mean look at politicians, most of them are quite bigoted, even if they don’t seem like it.
So bigotry is to be expected if you’re a politician?
No but you can’t exactly stop people from having racist thoughts. But I don’t think it’s right to say it at all, unless it’s the truth.
But who's to say what the truth is. If I made comments about Asian drivers, but had stats to back it up, am I still a bigot?
Well, then you'd be right. Not much you can do if you’ve got facts.
So some bigots are right, while others are just bigots?
Yeah, you could say that. It is all about how you say it though.
Philip. IT student.
Do we have the right to be a bigot?
I believe we do - most definitely! Why should anyone tell you what your opinion should or shouldn’t be?
Well, who do you hate?
I’m not really a hateful person.
But do you have any opinions you’d be uncomfortable sharing with us?
Yeah – I guess I do have some bigoted opinions that I wouldn’t straight up say.
But we won’t tell you what you should believe.
Nah, I’ll just keep it to myself. I think I have the right to do that.
Ben. 19. Student.
Hey man, we’re asking if people have the right to be a bigot. Do they?
Yeah – everyone has the right to be who they want. It’s up to everyone else if they don’t believe in it, to be the bigger person and accept it.
Are you a bigot?
Do you think fat people should pay for two tickets on a plane?
Hmm, that’s a good one… well, if they take up two seats physically then they just do… I don’t think they should be charged for both.
Who would win in a fight – an Asian or a Jew?
Well… Asians. You know, martial arts.
Really? Well I guess it's your right to think that.