By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
A South Australian truck driver who made an explicitly racist video about an Indian-Australian who is standing in local council elections is being investigated by Police.
Truck driver Grant Moroney, of Grant Moroney Towing in Port Augusta, filmed himself with a cardboard cut-out of local business owner, Australian citizen Sunny Singh and posted it to a social media trucking page.
The video has received widespread criticism from the South Australian community and the truck driver’s peers, and a major contractor has dumped his company.
But that may not be the end of the story for Mr Moroney, as police investigate whether an offence has been committed.
In the video, traditional Hindu music is playing through the truck’s sound system, as Mr Moroney grabs the corflute and smashes it into the dashboard while repeatedly saying ‘what have I fucking told you? Fit in or fuck off”.
He threatens Mr Singh’s likeness and continues his vitriolic racist tirade which ends with Mr Moroney running over Mr Singh’s cut-out with his truck.
It appears he made the film while driving, and Police are aware of this.
But it’s also possible that the Truck Driver could potentially face prosecution under laws against racial vilification.
Section 4 of the Racial Vilification Act 1996 (SA) makes it a criminal offence punishable by up to 3 years’ imprisonment to by a public act (such as posting to social media), incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of their race by:
- threatening physical harm to the person, or members of the group, or to property of the person or members of the group; or
- inciting others to threaten physical harm to the person, or members of the group, or to property of the person or members of the group.
Hate Speech is a crime in New South Wales
The New South Wales Government made moves to strengthen the state’s hate speech laws earlier this year, passing the Crimes Amendment (Publicly Threatening and Inciting Violence) Bill in June.
The new laws prescribe a maximum penalty of 3 years’ imprisonment and/or a fine of $11,000 for an individual who, or $55,000 for a company that, intentionally or recklessly threatens or incites violence towards a person (or group of persons) in public on grounds of race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex or HIV/AIDS status.
The Bill effectively annuls sections of the Anti‑Discrimination Act 1977 (NSW), including the offence of serious racial vilification under section 20D which was widely criticised as ineffective. It also specifically includes online hate speech.
It is seen as significant that the new law is embodied in the Crimes Act 1900, rather than under anti-discrimination legislation, which reflects the seriousness with which hate speech is treated under the law.
What about Freedom of Speech?
While in Australia we have long revelled in our ability to freely speak opinions, it is important to realise that free speech has never been absolute in any country.
Indeed, many believe it is important to draw a line between free speech on the one hand, and statements which threaten or incite violence against on the other.
The new laws do not impede any person’s ability to engage in reasoned debate, they merely prohibits the incitement or threat of acts which endanger the safety of others based on their personal characteristics or religious beliefs.
As a safeguard to ensure that prosecutions are only conducted where appropriate, charged need to be approved by the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) – in other words, the police cannot bring charges under the new laws of their own accord.
Mr Singh’s response
The South Australian man on the receiving end of the racist tirade, Mr Singh, says he feels sorry for Mr Moroney and would actually welcome the chance to meet him.
He says he initially reacted to the video with anger, but now understands that it was a result of “ignorance” of the person who made it and perhaps the man venting due to his own problems.
Mr Singh came to Australia ten years ago and is an Australian citizen. He says it’s the first time he has experienced racism in Australia.
In the wake of the incident, many social media users took to Facebook to express their sympathy and support for Mr Singh –a reflection of the broad sentiment of Australian society – that we do not tolerate hate speech.