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The SMH has an excellent profile of Andrew Bolt in last weekend’s copy of Good Weekend.

I’ve always found Andrew Bolt an intriguing personality; he’s one of those people I can respect despite wholly disagreeing with his views. People often pair him with Piers Ackerman, his Sydney counterpart at the Daily Telegraph, but the contrast between the pair could not be starker. Having watched both of them on the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday mornings, I’m inclined to believe these wild generalisations are made by those blinded by their own ideological leanings or who haven’t really listened to what either man has to say.

Piers Ackerman, I’ve always found, has a genuine mean streak and he’s genuinely partisan. He will never give ground in a way favourable to the ALP, and his views often seem disingenuous in the way they so illogically defend the Liberals even when they’re clearly in the wrong. His views are so distorted as to make me doubt his capacity for logical reasoning.

Andrew Bolt, on the other hand, has a very elegant and earthy manner of expression. He has a knack for exposing the weak points in arguments that I personally believe in. Even where I disagree with him, I tended not to fault his abilities as a logician or a debater. It is true that he often plays the man and not the ball, that he often distracts from the matter at hand by attacking side-issues or raising side points. And I think Bolt does believe what he preaches; there’s a wholesome consistency to what he says. The SMH article makes this point plainer than I am able to.

Bolt, however, has gotten a darker cast to his personality in more recent times. He’s become more like Piers, especially in global warming debates, more likely to be vicious for the sake of being vicious or appearing more partisan. I had attributed it to bitterness at his (left-wing) critics; a tender soul’s stubborn refusal to bend to the pressure of his foes. The SMH attributes it to a change of government from Liberal to Labor, requiring a more aggressive stance. I don’t know which is the truer explanation; perhaps a little of both. I must say, whatever the explanation, I respect him less.

That does not mean we should discount the valuable role he plays. I’ve always strongly believed in assessing the weaknesses in our own arguments. I believe strongly in multiculturalism rather than assimilation, for example, but it is helpful to read Bolt’s well-reasoned arguments about ghettoisation. They challenge us to rethink and reformulate our views. Yes, black Americans may ghettoise (in the sense of forming communities separate from the wider society), but that is the nature of society – it divides uncleanly into separate communities, whether by race, class or even just location. Freakonomics, for instance, demonstrates that even though a poor black child is statistically disadvantaged at succeeding in life, a poor white child living next door to him is equally disadvantaged (according to the statistics). Society naturally divides into communities; racial communities are simply more visible. And these communities are porous – sure, Asians may stick together but they are forced to interact with other races in their workplaces, schools and social lives.

Given that multiculturalism is such an important issue to our modern polity, it is entirely inappropriate that Bolt should be silenced by Anti-Discrimination laws which are far too widely drawn. In Eatock v Bolt, Bolt was stripped of various defences to both the Anti-Discrimination Act and defamation law by ‘malice’ (and a lot of fudged/wrong facts). Fair enough.

But the judgment went further; the judge made a finding of fact, by listening to the testimony of the plaintiffs, that the mixed-race Aboriginal plaintiffs each genuinely believed they were Aboriginal since they were of a young age and never made a deliberate choice to identify as Aboriginals to gain scholarships etc. I know findings of fact are not binding precedent, but if the same approach is followed in later cases doesn’t that prevent anyone from making the same argument as Bolt with stronger evidence?

Whether or not you agree with Bolt’s concern that mixed race Aboriginals with more white than black blood are identifying as Aboriginal with the result that they get certain advantages, you must believe that it is an argument that can be validly raised without being racist. I disagree with that concern; a white-skinned Aboriginal may face less discrimination than a black-skinned Aboriginal with the same proportion of white/black blood, but they still face many forms of discrimination including the socio-economic disadvantages faced by most Aboriginals.

Is this argument so different from the concern that those benefitting from Aboriginal scholarships tend to be from richer Aboriginal families; the sons/daughters of Aboriginal lawyers or academics, who would have gone to university regardless of whether they received this scholarship? Shouldn’t these scholarships be reserved for those most disadvantaged rather than anyone who is disadvantaged?

These are tough questions; I don’t presume to answer them for fear of being sued. But they are questions that ought to be able to be asked in a free society. We may permissibly ban them if they are unfounded in fact, or if they are asked maliciously. But to ban them merely because they are ‘insulting’ to some people is an outright attack upon free speech in matters of race. That portion of the Anti-Discrimination Act must be repealed.


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