Hypocrisy Has A New Name, And It’s Janet Albrechtsen

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Readers of this column probably aren’t regular readers of right-wing Australian columnist Janet Albrechtsen. For those who don’t know, she’s kind of like a slightly more high-brow Miranda Devine.

In 2002, Media Watch analysed some of her reporting. They showed that in one of her characteristic attacks on Islam, she distorted the evidence she used to build her case.

Albrechtsen had relied on a story in The Times which said, “Jean-Jacques Rassial, a psychotherapist at Villetaneuse University, said gang rape had become an initiation rite for male adolescents in city suburbs.”

This became, for Albrechtsen, “Pack rape of white girls is an initiation rite of passage for a small section of young male Muslim youths, said Jean-Jacques Rassial, a psychotherapist at Villetaneuse University.”

Since then, she’s continued along similar lines.

Readers of her column on February 6 last week would find most of it familiar enough. In some 2,200 words, Albrechtsen complained once again about section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. That is, the provisions that deal with racially offensive speech.

Albrechtsen ran through the familiar blinkered claims of the right-wing hacks at the Murdoch press about how oppressed they are. It is a little hard to take seriously, given that in the article, she casually expresses her comfort with our defamation laws – “Defamation laws rightly exist to protect people’s reputation”.

It is also hard to take her concern about liberties too seriously when she prides herself on her long battle against Australia getting a bill of rights. It seems Albrechtsen is less concerned with protecting the rights of people to express views she finds offensive, and more concerned with protecting the right of her likeminded colleagues and herself to express their bile about ethnic minority groups. All the while ensuring that she continues to have a legal weapon against those who criticise her. Like Media Watch, who she warned about “defamation” for the above story, before having her lawyers respond, demanding the ABC program “must not comment” on her work on their next program.

This was because she would not be able to reply (again) to the allegations that had been put to her until Tuesday. She said that not letting her reply to a third email and its allegations would “constitute evidence of bad faith”.

Her lawyer, from major corporate law firm Freehills explained that “if you publish comments about our client or her work prior to her being able to respond to you on Tuesday, you will have acted unreasonably, unfairly and without an appropriate regard for the truth or falsity of your comments. Your publication will be judged in that light.”

Okay, so one would think that Albrechtsen believes that it isn’t okay to criticise someone without giving them a chance to respond. I personally think public figures should be up for criticism based on their public record, but private figures should be allowed a response.

Let us return once more to her tedious article on the RDA from February 6. In her article, apparently to illustrate the evils of section 18c, she discusses Jacinta Price, daughter of Bess Price, a conservative Aboriginal Minister in the Northern Territory government.

As there are three Price family members in this story, I will refer to them by their first names for the sake of convenience.

Jacinta has recently been elected to the Alice Springs Town Council. As Albrechtsen noted, Jacinta wrote in a controversial Facebook post that she intended to celebrate Australia Day.

Jacinta claimed that, “We will remain stifled if we do not take responsibility and continue to point the blame, those riddled with guilt cannot help or grow either because guilt too is crippling.”

Albrechtsen then wrote:

“That post was shared on Facebook by Clayton Simpson Pitt who wrote this: “It’s coconut black c…s like this that deadset sicken me.” Simpson Pitt is a 22-year-old Yuwaalaraay-Gamilaraay man. He describes himself as a trainee project manager for the Northern Territory government’s Department of Infrastructure, and the Territory co-ordinator of Seed, an Indigenous youth climate network.

There was another response to Nampijinpa Price’s post. Writing on Facebook, Larissa Baldwin said: “it’s f..ked considering the appalling conditions that mob up their [sic]are subjected to. F. k I hate the Prices!” Baldwin is a Bundjalung woman, the national co-ordinator and campaigner for Seed.

A Facebook post by another Indigenous man, Steve Gumerungi Hodder Watt, said: “Honestly, if a whitefella or anyone else said the same things she does, they’d be called out as racists straight up…. credit where it’s due though, she makes patting the oppressors on the back look pretty easy when they’ve got their boots on our skulls.”

Readers may wonder who these people are, and why they are being singled out for criticism in Australia’s only national newspaper.

Albrechtsen drew conclusions which I suppose seem reasonable to her: “These posts could easily be considered highly offensive and insulting. And racist. They may well be caught by section 18c.

Let us pause at this moment. This is a writer who has said that accusations of racism are a way to shut down debate. Who claims to be deeply concerned by political correctness and the PC police constantly telling us what we can and can’t say.

She finds all of those comments “highly offensive”, “insulting” and “racist”. Is saying “Fuck I hate the Prices” a form of racism now? Is describing a person’s views as racist a form of racism?

Jacinta-Price-fb-post

Albrechtsen, however, was deeply moved by the bravery of Jacinta in the face of people disapproving of her on the internet. After all, “this young Indigenous woman has endured worse. Vile abuse. Racist taunts. She’s been called a ‘genocide denier’.” Apparently, it is now a “racist taunt” to call someone a “genocide denier”.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the Australian has shown how deeply protective it is of the Prices. In 2011, it ran 15 stories in 14 days, expressing outrage and fury over a rude tweet Larissa Behrendt wrote about Bess Price. Apparently forgetting her worry about political correctness back then, Albrechtsen weighed in two months later, claiming that Behrendt’s tweet demonstrated “deeper contempt for free speech”, and was actually an attempt to “muzzle” Price.

Remember – this is the same Albrechtsen who says that free speech “will necessarily offend some. But speech is only truly free if it includes the right to offend”. It seems the important thing is that it doesn’t offend one of the conservative Aboriginal people Albrechtsen agrees with.

Those Aboriginal people don’t need to learn that laws that encourage free speech “make us robust and resilient, force us to think more clearly in the face of disagreement, even offensive disagreement”.

Albrechtsen concluded that Jacinta has “no intention of bringing an action under 18c” for the racist abuse she has experienced, as sampled above. Albrechtsen thought it would be hilariously ironic if she did: “An Indigenous woman who challenges the victimhood mindset among some Indigenous activists suing Indigenous people for their offensive remarks. Watching members of the Left tie themselves in knots over that one would be like watching a macrame lesson for kindy kids.”

There is, in fact, plenty of irony, though Albrechtsen seems to have missed it. Remember, Albrechtsen regards it as outrageous to criticise someone in a story without letting them respond to those allegations first.

This is “evidence of bad faith”. Or as her lawyers put it, it is acting “unreasonably, unfairly, and without an appropriate regard for the truth or falsity of your comments.”

Yet Albrechtsen did not put her allegations about those who allegedly racially abused Jacinta to those people before publishing her attack on them.

I know this because I know and count as a friend one of the people Albrechtsen attacked in her article. Steve Gumerungi Hodder Watt is currently doing freelance media consultancy. He used to work as media officer at the Central Land Council, and was a senior news and current affairs broadcaster at the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association.

Unhappy with being attacked in the Australian, he happily agreed to discuss Albrechtsen’s article with me.

Firstly, the whole thesis of Albrechtsen’s article is that the left doesn’t believe in freedom of speech, which is why it cherishes the restrictive laws of 18c. Thus, it would be interesting if Jacinta sued under it for the supposedly racist remarks quoted above.

Albrechtsen explains that Jacinta wouldn’t do this, presumably because she lacks the “victimhood mindset” of her Aboriginal critics.

Steve informs me that he has been in touch with Clayton Simpson Pitt, the Aboriginal man who called Jacinta Price a “coconut black c*nt”. Simpson Pitt informed him that Dave Price sent official complaints about Simpson Pitt and Larissa Baldwin (the one who ‘hates the Prices’). Steve provided me with a copy of what he says is the text of Dave Price’s complaint.

It reads:

The response from two of your people appears below. As the father of a brave and decent young mother obscenely vilified in racist and misogynist terms by two young people who obviously have no respect for our nation or the indigenous cultures and people of our country, or for that matter common decency, I want to make to you very forceful and formal complaint…

It disturbs me deeply that an organisation such as yours that has open access to our schools and our children and exists with significant community support to positively influence our community in relation to the preservation of the environment, should employ people such as these who are willing to use such vile racist and misogynist language in a public forum to pass on your message to our children.

I would appreciate a response to this complaint outlining what action you are prepared to take to make sure this does not happen again.

Note a few things. Firstly, it seems Dave does believe in political correctness after all. Though Albrechtsen seems to believe that only those with a “victimhood mindset” would take action under 18c, it appears to have escaped her attention or interest that Dave made a serious complaint, and seems to want Simpson Pitt and Baldwin fired for their remarks about Jacinta.

If Albrechtsen has any problem with this behaviour, she has not expressed it.

It seems strange that Albrechtsen should stress the value of free speech – indeed, offensive speech – and tell the story of Jacinta and the Prices, leaving out that those who insulted her on the internet might get fired for doing so.

Secondly, what Albrechtsen leaves out of her article is that Jacinta has made plenty of offensive comments of her own. Jacinta had a private Facebook conversation with Steve, in which she made plenty of offensive comments.

For example, Jacinta repeatedly claimed that Steve is white. As Andrew Bolt could explain, this is an instance of speech that may contravene 18c. Furthermore, after repeatedly stating that he is an “initiated Lardil man”, Jacinta responded “Go burn a flag, I’m done with you little boy.”

Steve explains that Jacinta’s “comments about ‘little boy’ are highly insulting because it’s one of the most culturally insensitive comments that can be made to disrespect an initiated Aboriginal man and no Indigenous person who claims to be a traditional owner and cultural person would behave in that way”.

As for Albrechtsen, Steve concludes that, “The reality is that for all the accusations that Albrechtsen piece made, there’s proof that [Jacinta] was offensive, insulting and racist towards me, all less than 24 hours before that article was published”.

Albrechtsen would have known that if she contacted the people she intended to criticise.

Instead, she only got one side of the story.

By her standards, she acted unreasonably, unfairly and without an appropriate regard for the truth or falsity of her comments, and her publication should be judged in that light.

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Michael Brull

Michael Brull writes twice a week for New Matilda. He has written for a range of other publications, including Overland, Crikey, ABC's Drum, the Guardian and elsewhere. His writings can be followed at his public Facebook page (click on the icon below right).

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