The furore over Bill Leak’s death, and the effect it had on the RDA shows again that the dominant class do not value Aboriginal life, writes Amy McQuire.
In the acres of coverage in The Australian newspaper’s over-the-top tribute to late cartoonist Bill Leak this month, one stood out. It was by national political editor Simon Benson, and outlined how Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull had come to change his stance on the Racial Discrimination Act’s section 18c, following the death of his long-time buddy Leak.
Turnbull had been one of the dissenters when his predecessor Tony Abbott tried to push through changes to the act back in 2014, the days where George Brandis proudly proclaimed people had a ‘right to be bigots’ (a fact we know all to well judging from his own party’s record).
According to Benson, on the morning of Leak’s death, and before hearing of his passing, Turnbull had secured agreement from Cabinet to amend 18c in a three-hour meeting.
After Leak’s death: “Turnbull choked back tears when he lead a memorial service at Sydney Town Hall… Leak had made a lasting impact on the Prime Minister’s life over the 31 years they had known each other – roughly half of both their lives.
‘Bill Leak was accused of racism because of a cartoon, because of a cartoon,’ Turnbull told the assembled mourners. ‘Bill should have grown old and even more wiry.’
Benson continued: “The case against Leak in the Human Rights Commission under 18c, terminated before he died, was based on a complaint about a cartoon confronting an uncomfortable, tragic truth of indigenous (sic) social dysfunction.
“It had riled Turnbull. Just as the case against the QUT students had started to shape a determination to deal with what he had long believed was an absurdity. ‘Why should it be illegal to hurt someone’s feelings’, Turnbull would tell colleagues. The two cases became the catalyst for the decision he announced (on 18c).”
This article is startling in its lack of self-awareness, but it shows the extent to which Leak’s death played in the Coalition’s decision-making. It’s been said that the amendments to section 18c can basically be called ‘Leak’s law’.
The fact that a law offering a very weak protection to the most vulnerable in this country can be amended to suit the sensibilities of a privileged white cartoonist, so powerful he even has the ear of the Prime Minister, speaks volumes to this country and the lives it affords most worth to.