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Senator faces vilification trial



By Anne Calverley

Perth, June 14 2002

Aboriginal groups yesterday hailed a Federal Court decision giving the go-ahead to a test case against Western Australian Liberal senator Ross Lightfoot for calling Aborigines a primitive race in a newspaper article.

Federal Court judge Christopher Carr dismissed a motion yesterday by the senator's legal counsel to strike out a claim of racial vilification on the grounds it was not reasonably arguable.

In May, 1997, the then senator-designate was reported in the Australian Financial Review as describing the Aboriginal race as the most primitive people on Earth. He was quoted as vehemently opposing the teaching of Aboriginal studies in schools because he abhorred many aspects of their culture.

The article prompted law lecturer Hannah McGlade to complain to the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and then to the Federal Court after changes to the Racial Discrimination Act removed the commission's jurisdiction.

Justice Carr said the controversial nature of Senator Lightfoot's comments might have played a part in his being quoted in the newspaper. He said by granting an on-the-record interview with a journalist in his parliamentary office, Senator Lightfoot increased the likelihood of his words being broadcast in a public domain. "I consider it to be reasonably arguable that that act caused his words to be communicated to the public," Justice Carr said.

A hearing on the case is expected to be held in the Federal Court in a few months.

The Coalition of Aboriginal Agencies chairman, Dean Collard, applauded Ms McGlade's courage in pursuing the matter through the court process for so long. "There is a need for these sort of court cases to alert people generally about the impact these types of comments have on Aboriginal people."



Article originally here:

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2002/06/13/1023864324954.html




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