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Summer 2003 cover

National Observer Home > No. 55 - Summer 2003 > Editorial Comment

Have "Anti-Discrimination" and "Anti-Racism" Laws Gone Too Far?

Laws against discrimination raise fundamental questions in regard to the freedom of individuals. Every law that protects a person by preventing private actions that disfavour him also detracts from the freedom of other persons to make decisions for their own benefit.

Recently there has been an increase in Australia and other countries of laws that prevent citizens from taking into account, in commercial and other contexts, the fact that a particular person is of a particular race, religion, sex or age. Other laws have restricted freedom of speech by proscribing statements that may give offence to particular groups. Special tribunals have been set up to administer these laws and to punish those who are accused of breaching them. The members of these tribunals are generally persons of left-liberal political inclinations who are chosen in order to administer the laws aggressively.

In Australia and other civilized countries these laws appear to have been inappropriate and to have had deleterious effects. If, for example, an employer wishes to employ a person of a particular sex, why should he be prevented from doing so? Again, if he wishes to employ a person of a particular religion, or of a particular age-group, why should he be regarded as committing an offence?

It is apparent that the tendency of laws of these kinds is totalitarian, in the sense that they interfere with basic freedoms of association and freedoms of choice. They involve an important shift in power from the individual to the state. In addition, they are almost invariably administered by bureaucrats of left-liberal leanings, who are comfortable with the increasing power of governments and reductions in the liberty of individuals.

Not surprisingly, laws of these kinds often engender deeply felt resentments, as is being discovered by feminists today. Feminists have been responsible for the introduction of many freedom-reducing laws, and what has emerged is that in reality feminists have been concerned to create affirmative discrimination in their own favour. Thus they seek to require employers to employ women who are less able or less qualified than men.

In a competitive environment laws of these kinds detract from productivity, but even more importantly they detract from the freedom of individuals to associate with persons of their own choice.

Further, laws against discrimination are commonly administered selectively. Technically members of minority groups are also subject to them, but their principal targets are majority groups. So, for example, aboriginal groups commonly discriminate in favour of other aboriginals. There ought to be no objection in principle to their doing so. In fact, a blind eye is generally turned to this discrimination. Again, Jewish groups commonly discriminate in favour of other Jews. But if the relevant discrimination is by a person of Anglo-Saxon background, a more aggressive attitude is taken by those administering the laws, and the heavy hands of anti-discrimination bureaucrats and tribunal members fall.

The enactment of anti-discrimination laws is in accordance with the political-correctness that has undermined various freedoms in Western democracies during recent years. The totalitarian tendency of political-correctness has been commented upon frequently. Again, it represents an attempt by left-liberal groups to detract from the freedoms of others, in this case by inhibiting freedom of expression. Anti-discrimination laws go even further, by inhibiting freedom of choice and freedom of association in particular.

If it is argued that anti-discrimination and anti-racism laws are necessary in Australia a number of answers can be given. First, the alleged need, if any, is much exaggerated. In many university faculties, for example, the majority of students are women, not men. It should no longer be contended that women are at a disadvantage through an absence of academic qualifications. Indeed, as noted, what is really being sought in this context is affirmative discrimination in favour of women.

Secondly, despite the apparently general intention of anti-discrimination legislation, in fact it is rarely applied against a wide variety of minority groups, whether they are aboriginals, Jews or Moslems. Tacitly various types of discrimination by such groups are not interfered with.

Conversely, the deleterious effects of anti-discrimination laws are clear. To interfere with freedom of expression, freedom of choice and freedom of association is in itself highly undesirable. Further, a mentality is being produced by which not only are Australians affected unduly in their relations with each other, but also they are disadvantaged as against non-Australians. For example, in view of a very large Moslem population already in Australia, and the contentious and indeed dangerous nature of many manifestations of Islam, it is highly prudent that Australia should either cease to accept further Moslem migrants or else restrict their numbers markedly. Indeed, in some Moslem countries, such as Afghanistan in particular, generally savage mores and practices are such an accepted aspect of dominant cultures that it appears to be highly undesirable to accept any immigrants from there at all. Moreover, this is evidently the view of a majority of sensible Australians who are concerned with the security and cohesiveness of their country.1

But which politicians or public figures, whatever their private views, would be prepared to advocate such policies today? Certainly not even Mr. John Howard, who is himself more concerned to protect Australia's security than others in his party like Mr. Peter Costello or the great majority of the leaders of the Labor Party or Australian Democrats, who apparently lack patriotic loyalties.

In the light of these various concerns there is much to be said for the view that all anti-discrimination legislation in Australia should be repealed.

1. In The Adelaide Review, November 2002, Mr. John Stone asked, "Can we really, post Bali, go on believing that people of all cultures will make equally acceptable immigrants? Can we really go on officially fostering the maintenance within our society of ‘separate but equal cultures’ - and the dual national allegiances that go with that? . . . To put it bluntly, it is time that the Government began to give us a few answers."

National Observer No. 55 - Summer 2003