#18C

The Australian Federal Government recently considered changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. This proposal received much media attention and stirred debate across all levels of Australian society about the implications of racism and the right to free speech. The  Government’s proposed changes includes the repeal of Section 18C of the Act, which currently states the following:

(1) 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.

The proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act were an election promise made by the Liberal-National coalition government led by then Opposition Leader, now Prime Minister, Tony Abbott. The promise was made in response to a 2011 court case in which columnist Andrew Bolt was found guilty of breaching the above Act for comments he made in the Herald Sun newspaper about a number of people, including Bindi Cole Chocka. The Federal Court of Australia summary of this case, ‘Eatock v Bolt [2011] FCA 1103’ can be found online on the Federal Court of Australia website (www.fedcourt.gov.au).

 

Bindi Cole Chocka participated publically in debates about the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, appearing on SBS Insight and writing an opinion piece for The Guardian online newspaper to discuss the effect that Andrew Bolt’s commentary and the ‘Eatock v Bolt’ court case had on her life. At the time, she strongly advocated against the proposed changes but now views the right to free speech as of more importance.

#18C is a new work made by Chocka in response to the situation, and to the comment made by Attorney-General George Brandis in parliament that "People do have a right to be bigots". While referencing public discussion of this issue through the word ‘bigot’ painted on the paper bag placed over the head of the anonymous man in this video, Chocka also brings ideas of forgiveness, leadership and grace into the debate by washing the feet of this man – a traditional Christian act of humility referenced in the Bible when Jesus washed the feet of his disciples before his crucifixion.