Andrew Bolt has been held liable of violating the Racial Discrimination Act for writing two columns intended to offend and humiliate several people because they were Aboriginal. Bolt lost because his writing was not done reasonably and in good faith, which we know is characteristic of his work in other areas as well.
The judgement makes interesting reading.
The judge found that Bolt’s evidence was not to be trusted:
I am firmly of the view that a safer and more reliable source for discerning Mr Bolt’s true motivation is to be found in the contents of the Newspaper Articles themselves rather than in the evidence that Mr Bolt gave, including the denials made by him as to his motivation.
Bolt’s comments were “exaggerated” and “unsupported by any factual basis”:
In the first article (1A-21), Mr Bolt wrote that Ms Heiss had won “plum jobs reserved for Aborigines” at each of three named institutions or enterprises. Each of those assertions was erroneous. Mr Bolt accepted that they were wrong because they were exaggerated. One of the positions that Mr Bolt claimed Ms Heiss had won as a “plum job” was a voluntary unpaid position. The other two positions were not reserved for Aboriginal people but were positions for which Aboriginal people were encouraged to apply.
Mr Bolt wrote that Ms Eatock “thrived as an Aboriginal bureaucrat, activist and academic” (1A-28). The comment is unsupported by any factual basis and is erroneous. Ms Eatock has had only six to six and a half years of employment since 1977. In the case of Ms Eatock, Mr Bolt also suggested in the first article that she identified as an Aboriginal for political motives after attending a political rally (1A-27). That statement is untrue. Ms Eatock recognised herself to be an Aboriginal person from when she was eight years old whilst still at school and did not do so for political reasons.
The judgement details Bolt’s deliberately misleading cherry picking and finds his excuse of “a lack of space” to be disingenous:
There is other evidence which also suggests to me that Mr Bolt was not particularly interested in including reference to the Aboriginal cultural upbringing of the individuals he wrote about.
Mr Bolt wrote that Ms Cole was raised by her “English-Jewish” or “English” mother (1A-2; 2A-24). That statement is factually inaccurate because Ms Cole’s Aboriginal grandmother also raised Ms Cole and was highly influential in Ms Cole’s identification as an Aboriginal. He wrote that Ms Cole “rarely saw her part-Aboriginal father” (1A-3). That statement is factually incorrect. Ms Cole’s father was Aboriginal and had been a part of her life until she was six years old. Ms Cole later lived with her father for a year whilst growing up.
Mr Bolt’s documentary source for the statements he made in the articles about how Ms Cole was raised, expressly referred to the involvement of Ms Cole’s Aboriginal grandmother in Ms Cole’s upbringing. It quoted Ms Cole attributing to her grandmother the fact that she felt “staunchly proud and strong” about being an Aboriginal person. Mr Bolt disingenuously explained the omission as due to a lack of space.
He also relied on that reason for the lack of cultural reference given in relation to Prof Behrendt. The factual assertions made that Prof Behrendt was “raised by her white mother” (2A-20) were also erroneous. Prof Behrendt’s Aboriginal father did not separate from her mother until Prof Behrendt was about 15 years old. Her father was always part of her family during her upbringing, even after that separation.
In my view, Mr Bolt was intent on arguing a case. He sought to do so persuasively. It would have been highly inconvenient to the case for which Mr Bolt was arguing for him to have set out facts demonstrating that the individuals whom he wrote about had been raised with an Aboriginal identity and enculturated as Aboriginal people. Those facts would have substantially undermined both the assertion that the individuals had made a choice to identify as Aboriginal and that they were not sufficiently Aboriginal to be genuinely so identifying. The way in which the Newspaper Articles emphasised the non-Aboriginal ancestry of each person serves to confirm my view. That view is further confirmed by factual errors made which served to belittle the Aboriginal connection of a number of the individuals dealt with, in circumstances where Mr Bolt failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for the error in question.
Mr Bolt said of Wayne and Graham Atkinson that they were “Aboriginal because their Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman” (1A-33). In the second article Mr Bolt wrote of Graham Atkinson that “his right to call himself Aboriginal rests on little more than the fact that his Indian great-grandfather married a part-Aboriginal woman” (A2-28). The facts given by Mr Bolt and the comment made upon them are grossly incorrect. The Atkinsons’ parents are both Aboriginal as are all four of their grandparents and all of their great grandparents other than one who is the Indian great grandfather that Mr Bolt referred to in the article. Mr Bolt did not seek to deny the evidence of Aboriginal ancestry given by the Atkinsons but insisted that their ancestry was accurately conveyed by the statements made and extracted above.
Bolt is, of course, complaining loudly and at length on the front pages of newspapers, on TV, and on radio that he is being silenced by the Racial Discrimination Act. But malicious lies about people violate laws against defamation, so he would likely have lost a defamation case as well. This does suggest that the provision of the Racial Discrimination Act in question is perhaps unnecessary.