The Right to Bigotry

*** WARNING ***

This post contains disability and racial hate speech.

This is Neil. Neil is a retard.

Imbecile, dummy, stupid, idiot, subnormal, a mongol, defective, dimwitted, mentally defective, moronic, slow, shall we continue? Then there are the clever analogies – a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic, not playing with a full deck, a few bricks short a load, the elevator doesn’t go all the way to the top, the lights are on but nobody is home, all foam and no beer, smart as bait, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, as sharp as a box of rocks, not the sharpest knife in the drawer, a few clowns short of a circus, fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down, receiver is off the hook, as sharp as a wet bag of mice, few roos loose in the top paddock, few stubbies short of a six pack, wouldn’t know if his arse was on fire.

Funny, right?

Here’s the thing. I don’t know anything about Neil, except that he has Down Syndrome. But I do know that as a person with Down Syndrome, he is the guy who will be targeted by hate speech, based purely on his physical characteristics and his status as a man with Down Syndrome.

I wouldn't call Neil a retard. I don’t like to use words that resonate with hate, that make people hurt, that make people feel bad about themselves. And I don’t think other people should be able to hurt others, either.

George Brandis does. He’s our Attorney General, who in an address to the Australian Senate yesterday said, ‘People have the right to be bigots, you know.’

This guy is the Minister in charge of the Human Rights Commission. He’s making the argument for free speech and telling us that bigotry is our problem, not theirs.

George thinks it is okay for people to call Neil those names. Bigotry is, by definition, ‘the state of mind of a bigot: someone who, as a result of their prejudices, treats or views other people with fear, distrust, hatred, contempt, or intolerance on the basis of a person's opinion, ethnicity, race, religion, national origin, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics.’ On that basis, it is okay to call Neil those names or to treat him differently, to use hate speech against him or discriminate against him in a myriad of other ways.

Neil’s problem, hate speech. But who is looking after Neil’s rights?

We don’t have national disability vilification laws in this country, despite lobbying by disability groups – you can read a very good submission here.

There is one exception – Tasmania. They specifically prohibit ‘public conduct that incites hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or group of persons on grounds of disability, sexual orientation and lawful sexual activity.’ In Tasmania, you can’t be hatin’ on the disabled people.

It’s been different for Aboriginal people and people from culturally and linguistic diverse backgrounds, who worked tirelessly to bring in legislation including the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, the Commonwealth Racial Hatred Act (1995) and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Act (1986) to outlaw racial discrimination in the public sphere in Australia.

That’s all in the past. As one of his first acts of office, George is proposing sweeping and controversial changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, including a repeal of section 18C. Section 18C, in its current form, makes it unlawful for someone to do an act that is reasonably likely to "offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate" someone because of their race or ethnicity. George wants to remove the words ‘offend, insult and humiliate’ removed.

People do have a right to be bigots, you know, says George, who is a Queenslander. In George’s brave new world, it would be okay for a publican to call Neil a retard, then turn to the Aboriginal man next to him and call him a nigger or coon. In the same state, it would be illegal for three people to sit together if they are wearing motorcycle patches.

People do have the right to be bigots, says George. The late and unlamented Fred Phelps had the right to picket the funeral of Heath Ledger with placards carrying messages of hate, because the Westboro Baptist Church don’t like gay people (or anyone else, it seems, including actors who play gay cowboys). The same group that planned to protest the funeral of twenty kindergarten students who were gunned down in a school shooting, or the funerals of dead soldiers. George would have no problems with Fred Phelps’ message to the disability community –

“God doesn’t hate cripples because they’re crippled. Cripples are crippled because God hates them. Retards are brute beasts that shamelessly consume their own mucous the way vile dogs eat their own vomit. Their mind is of such a reprobate nature they are given to sexually gratifying themselves in public while their physically disabled cohorts take exorbitantly long periods of time to walk down narrow hallways, slowing the progress of those not despised by God and impeding their holy endeavours.”

George wouldn’t have a problem with the views of the Church, because it’s all about the free speech. Check out the type of free speech he’s advocating here - He’d embrace the view that the Church should be able to spill their hate in the form of free speech.

Like other people from equity groups, I am saddened and confused that someone appointed by our government should be advocating for hate under the guise of freedom. So I’m using my freedom of speech to tell George Brandis that I think he’s an asshole. I’d rather have a beer with Neil, who has committed the extraordinary crime of being born with an extra chromosome.

Meshel Laurie says it well - Extraordinary times we live in. Tough times for Australians unlucky enough to have been born extraordinary.


  1. Bravo sir. You nailed it. And what Mr Brandis (for whom I can think of much better, or worse words than asshole) ignores is that the right to be free from abuse trumps any right to free speech.

  2. Hear! Hear! Sam well said. We can't stop people from being bigots, but it should not be legal to behave like bigots. Whatever evil Brandis spouts to the contrary.


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