Columnist Andrew Bolt outside the Federal Court in Melbourne after being found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act. Picture: Trevor Pinder Source: Herald Sun
Bolt breached discrimination act – court
A court has found News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt breached the Racial Discrimination Act.
Bolt was found to have contravened Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Nine aboriginal applicants brought a class-action against Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times claiming Bolt wrote they sought professional advantage from the colour of their skin.
There were cheers and applause in the court when Justice Mordecai Bromberg read out his verdict.
He found that “fair-skinned Aboriginal people (or some of them) were reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to have been offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated by the imputations conveyed in the newspaper articles” published in the Herald Sun.
In a brief statement outside the Melbourne court after the judgment, Bolt said “This is a terrible day for freedom of speech in this country.”
“I argued then and I argue now that we should not insist on differences between us but focus instead on what unites us as human beings.”
The Herald and Weekly Times, publisher of the Herald Sun, has not confirmed whether it will appeal the decision. The judge ordered parties to confer on on relief, which is expected to include a declaration by the publisher that the HWT and Bolt contravened section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
Judge Bromberg also expects the parties agree to prohibit republication of the newspaper articles. The nine “fair-skinned Aboriginals” party to the action led by Pat Eatock, including Larissa Behrendt did not seek monetary compensation or an apology from Bolt. The relief between the parties is anticipated to include costs.
After the decision, which was greeted by applause and cheers in the Federal Court, Pat Eatock said “It’s never been an issue of freedom of speech, it’s been an issue of professionalism.”
The Justice ruled that Bolt could not use fair comment or public interest to defence those particular articles.
At issue was Bolt’s assertion that the nine applicants had chosen to identify themselves as “Aboriginal” and consequently win grants, prizes and career advancement, despite their apparently fair skin and mixed heritage.
The nine applicants were led by activist Pat Eatock and included artist Bindi Cole, NSW Australian of the Year Larissa Behrendt, author Anita Heiss and former ATSIC chief Geoff Clark.
Four articles published by the Herald Sun columnist in the newspaper and his blog were “a head-on assault on a group of highly successful and high-achieving” Aborigines, Ron Merkel QC told the court during proceedings in late March and early April.
The nine people sought an apology from the Herald & Weekly Times and an order against republishing, but no compensation.
In an occasionally explosive case, Bolt’s writings about Aboriginal identity were painted as being akin to a “eugenics approach” and similar to writings that led to the Holocaust.
Bolt subsequently protested the slurs in court as “an unforgivable travesty.”
In concluding the eight day proceedings, counsel for the plaintiffs conceded Bolt’s writings did not incite “racial vilification or racial hatred”, rather they “constituted highly personal, highly derogatory and highly offensive attacks” on the nine individuals.