A Quick Note on Andrew Bolt

I wrote a dissertation on censorship, and I’ve devoted thousands of hours to studying the right to freedom of speech, professional obligations of journalists, and the harms that are caused when people open their mouths and say things that are hateful, spurious, or just plain wrong. This is, for better or worse, my job. So I feel compelled to write about Bolt’s “I am, you are, we are Australian.” (I’m not going to link to it. I feel bad enough having read the screed; if you want to give him those clicks, do it yourself.)

There are so many things wrong with Bolt’s article, but I’m going to limit what I want to say to a couple of glaring errors he makes about Australian constitutional history. Perhaps if Bolt had done his homework , he’d note that the statement

[The writers of the Australian Constitution] were inspired by the creed that all citizens — those, at least, we admitted — are as one before the law.

is 100% false. In point of fact, Edmund Barton—first Prime Minister of Australia, and one of the drafters of the Australian Constitution—had the opinion that

the moment the Commonwealth obtains any legislative power at all it should have the power to regulate the affairs of the people of coloured or inferior races who are in the Commonwealth.

This led to section 51(xxvi) of the Constitution, the so-called “race power.” The race power granted the Commonwealth the power to make special laws for anyone on the basis of their race.

Surprisingly, the race power did not extend to Indigenous Australians, until that exception was removed in 1967. Not that it made a difference, as section 122 of the Constitution, which allows for the Commonwealth to set law in the territories, provided for plenty of opportunity to act in paternalistic, degrading, and generally awful ways to the detriment of Indigenous Australians.

Then there is Bolt’s claim that

although, contrary to popular myth, they granted Aborigines the vote in all states where they had the franchise

which is a red herring of sorts. The Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902 excluded

aboriginal native[s] of Australia Africa Asia or the Islands of the Pacific except New Zealand’ unless covered under Section 41 [of the Constitution, which grants the right to vote for both houses of the parliament].

But section 41 left voting matters to the states. So speaking of the Constitution’s power to grant voting rights is more or less meaningless—state action and Indigenous Australian involvement did the work. The Australian Electoral Commission itself notes that the Constitution was interpreted to deny Indigenous Australians the vote  That’s why Queensland didn’t give Indigenous Australians the vote until 1965. That’s why compulsory voting wasn’t applied to Indigenous Australians until 1984. Which in itself is a form of civic disenfranchisement that, in a country where mandatory voting applies to everyone else, is a travesty.

(I haven’t even got to the unspeakably racist language Bolt uses. If anyone can explain Bolt’s term “race industry professionals” to me in a way that doesn’t make me swear loudly, I’ll give you a prize. That he uses “scare quotes” around “race” is equally terrible.)

Whatever his intentions, Bolt paints a false picture. He’s again abused his platform to spread misinformation, and on a subject about which he’s already contravened the Racial Discrimination Act once. The Herald Sun should pull this article.

When someone misuses their power to convey ideas to millions, and does so in a racist and harmful manner, they should be taken to task.  Bolt should have the book thrown at him—and that book should probably be on the constitutional history of Australia. The other editors at the Herald Sun have an obligation not to let their colleague spread falsehoods.

Disclaimer: If I’ve made any mistakes that are indicative of my privilege as a white Australian (or any other privilege I’m carrying—and I carry a lot), let me know, and I’ll do my best to rectify it immediately.

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