In the face of a coordinated and sustained campaign initiated and led by Jewish activists, the Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has abandoned his 2013 election promise to water down or remove Section 18C of Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act which makes it unlawful to act in a manner likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone on the basis of race. Abbott said he had made a “leadership decision” to walk away from his pledge despite having promised to remove this outrageous restriction on the free speech after the law was used successfully against conservative columnist Andrew Bolt in 2011.
It is a measure of the power wielded by organized Jewry in Australia that the Prime Minister would rather damage his political credibility by breaking a clear election promise than suffer the consequences of defying the single most powerful group in Australian society. Abbott, who made the announcement while outlining an extension of anti-terrorism laws, attempted to justify his broken promise by claiming “I don’t want to do anything that puts our national unity at risk at this time and so those proposals are now off the table.” Abbott’s apparent desire to not further alienate Australia’s problematic Islamic community by repealing Section 18C (at a time when the government is set to strengthen laws against terrorism) is an obvious political smokescreen. The veteran Jewish journalist, Michael Gawenda, writing in the Business Spectator, identified the real reason behind the Prime Minister walking away from his election commitment:
While Abbott said that the decision to ditch the plan to rid the Racial Discrimination Act of section 18C was taken because of “complications” in dealing with Islamic communities in the context of the proposed tough new terrorism laws, it seems likely that more was involved in this decision. The conflict in Gaza and the coverage and reaction to this appalling, heartbreaking conflagration, in my opinion, made it virtually certain that any move to change or abolish section 18C would extract too high a political price.
The repeal of section 18C was vigorously opposed by the leadership of virtually every ethnic community in the country. But it would be fair to say — without wishing to give succor to those who reckon the Jews are too powerful — that Jewish community leaders have played a crucial role in organizing the opposition to any potential change to the RDA. It is the opposition of the Jewish communal leaders that had been of major concern to [Attorney General] Brandis and, to a significant extent, Tony Abbott.