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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 25 February 2017
COMMENT 6 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 25 FEBRUARY 2017 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM George Vardas and George Vellis meet with the president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, and Race Relations Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane. The Australian Hellenic Council goes to Canberra and takes a stand against racism On 17 February 2017, representatives of the Australian Hellenic Council appeared in Parliament House in Canberra before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights inquiring into the operation of the Racial Discrimination Act and freedom of speech in Australia. George Vellis, the NSW co-coordinator of the AHC, and the secretary, George Vardas, in their opening remarks stressed that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act – which makes it a breach of the Act to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person on the basis of that person's race, colour or ethnicity – and as interpreted by the courts, strikes a reasonable balance between the right of freedom of speech and the right not to be subjected to the harms caused by vitriol and racial hate speech. In developing this submission, the rhetorical question was posed: why the Greeks? Greek migration to this country dates back to the gold rushes and accelerated during the inter-war period and after 1945. Australians of Greek origin had to endure the stigma of being labelled ‘wogs’ or ‘dagoes’, or to be told that “you are not one of us”. That abuse was hurtful and although we came to terms with it, nevertheless most Greek Australians believe that all people deserve respect and dignity and a sense of inclusion, irrespective of their racial or ethnic background or the colour of their skin. That is a precious freedom and right that needs to be defended against racial abuse and stereotyping, and for that reason alone we stand with the multicultural communities including the Arabic, Chinese, Korean, Armenian, Jewish, Indian and Vietnamese communities, as well as our Indigenous community. But from a Hellenic perspective, as George Vardas submitted to the committee, the rise of Golden Dawn (in Australia masquerading under the sardonic name Hellenic Nationalists of Australia) is particularly disturbing when we consider the impact of hate speech. Golden Dawn is nothing more than a neoNazi group of anti-Semite zealots who proclaim they are nationalists but conveniently wrap themselves in black flags imprinted with what Professor Vrasidas Karalis has described in his recent book The Demons of Athens as the golden shape of a strange meander which closely resembles the twisted cross of the Nazis; in other words, a stylised swastika. There is also the ugly spectre of Golden Dawn supporters chanting "Juden Raus" (Jews Out), invoking the hashtag #Hitlerwasright on social media, assembling in torch-lit rallies with stiff arm salutes, railing against the so-called invasion of Greece by sub-humans infected with diseases (a not so subtle reference to refugees), and engaging in brutal assaults and even killings that are racially motivated. And this is all fed by a demagogue who is an outright Holocaust denier ("there were no ovens, no gas chambers, it is a lie") and who boasts "Hitler for a thousand years". What of racist speech in Australia? In a case heard back in 2012 involving four young Indigenous boys who had died in a stolen car, a number of readers in Western Australia posted vile comments, including that the deceased boys were "trash" and that their bodies be used as landfill in a remote Kalgoorlie mine. The Federal Court found this was an "extreme example of a gratuitously insulting and offensive remark" that breached s.18C in that it inferred that they were worthless, despicable people − not by reason of their offending behaviour, but because of their very Aboriginality, and that they should be disposed of without trace. Such comments are not far re- moved from what some supporters of Golden Dawn are prepared to say, such as "re-opening the ovens and turning illegal migrants into soap" (in a crude and disgusting reference to the Holocaust). That is not a society that Greek Australians want to see. In its submission, the Australian Hellenic Council pointed out that those who urge the repeal of s.18C, or its emasculation under the veneer of freedom of speech, ignore the chilling effect of such vile and repulsive speech on communities whose only ‘crime’ is to be of a different race, colour or ethnicity. The AHC submission appeared to be well-received by the committee, with Liberal MP Julian Leeser congratulating the represntatives for adopting a "very sophisticated" approach to the issue and Labor MP Madeleine King applauding the Greeks for taking such a principled stand against racism. After the submission, George Vardas and George Vellis remained in the Parliament to hear the submission of the Australian Human Rights Commission and later met and conferred with the president of the Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, and the Race Relations Commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane. The Australian Hellenic Council strongly opposes any changes to the Racial Discrimination Act and adopts the comments by Justice Bromberg of the Federal Court that at the heart of any attempt to secure freedom from racial prejudice and intolerance is the protection of equality and the inherent dignity of all human beings. These are the values that infuse international human rights and these are the same values that define our Greek heritage and persona.
18 February 2017
4 March 2017