Australia’s right to be intolerant of intolerance

Andrew L. Urban

Why is Australian democracy so overly, dangerously tolerant as to seem craven and weak, as it watches the ignorant aggro of a member of the Senate who has declared that “This is war!” against Australian society. She, Senator Lidia Thorpe, has appointed herself as leader of the newly formed, Blak Sovereignty Movement (BSM, eh?), brandishing a bludgeon. Not a clue?

The paradox of tolerance states that if a society is tolerant without limit, its ability to be tolerant is eventually seized or destroyed by the intolerant. Philosopher Karl Popper in 1945 described it as the seemingly self-contradictory idea that in order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must retain the right to be intolerant of intolerance. Popper went on to say: “We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”

Perhaps the Australian Parliament should ask if the self-appointed leader of the BSM can remain in the Senate as a (highly paid and unruly) elected representative of citizens who she regards as the enemy in a sovereign country she wishes to delegitimise?

The deliberate misspelling of ‘Black’ as ‘Blak’ by her BSM is an affectation symbolic of the dishonest and belligerent blanket in which that movement is wrapped.

As Janet Albrechtsen summarised in The Australian (Feb 9, 2023) “The Blak Sovereign Movement that Senator Thorpe says she now represents wants every homeowner to pay 1 per cent of wages to the relevant Indigenous body as a tax or rent to the original inhabitants whom, she says, are still really the current legal owners of Australia. According to Thorpe, those who came since 1788, and their descendants, are permissive tenants only with no absolute right to be here.”

We know from accumulated studies that the original inhabitants were not nations but often warring hunter gatherer tribes who did not have – or ever claim – ownership of the land. That relationship is claimed to have been characterised by a spiritual connection.

Would the majority, the assimilated Aboriginals and part-Aboriginals who are homeowners be asked to pay the rent? How would that make sense – or would it emphasise the benefits assimilation into Australia’s post 1788 society?

As tenants paying rent to the ‘relevant indigenous body’, are the homeowners entitled to receive reimbursements for the massive improvements to property and the provision of health care, education and welfare services, national defence and infrastructure since 1788? Would the tenants be asked to stop spending $30 billion a year on Aboriginal assistance programs?

Will Australia ask these questions?


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3 Responses to Australia’s right to be intolerant of intolerance

  1. Garry Stannus says:

    Good to see that Popper is getting a mention – but his importance to me is more on science and in that sense I would include Kuhn.

    When I first read European History (in the 1960s) my teacher introduced the topic of (religious) toleration in the Reformation as ‘Tolerance or the lack of it’.

    I had a discussion last night about the meaning of the word ‘sovereignty’. Were there two ways in which the word is currently being used? Aboriginals are said to have never ceded sovereignty (and thus still hold it) while in an alternitive sense sovereignty is also used to refer to the actual power (realpolitik) that a nation state enjoys over its territories – regardless of how they acquired them.

    Another question is: When – if at all – does it become appropriate to leave aside talk of dispossession?

    The use of the term ‘part aboriginals’ is challenging … my understanding is that aboriginality is currently understood as applying persons who identify as, are known to be and/or recognised as belonging to an aboriginal community. I don’t think the term ‘part aboriginal’ is acceptable in the way it has been used in this article. It should be understood that in the same way as terms such as ‘octoroon’ or ‘half aboriginal’ are objectionable, so too is ‘part aboriginal’.

    So, why does this article begin by questioning Lydia Thorpe’s (exercise of free speech) as occasioning a “craven and weak”, dangerous tolerance? Do not democracies allow robust and confronting points-of-view?

    • andrew says:

      Thanks for contributing to the discussion, Garry.
      I’ll defend my use of ‘part aboriginal’ as a simple and easily understood reference to people who are …er, part aboriginal, eg black mother, white father, like Jacinta Nampajimpa Price. Nothing disrespectful in that. Why is it “challenging”?

      About Lidia Thorpe: I pointed to her declaration “This is war!” clearly against Australian society, brandishing a bludgeon. I pointed out that she is an elected representative of citizens who she regards as the enemy in that war. The fact that she has not been silenced or held accountable means that she does indeed enjoy freedom of speech. That doesn’t insulate her from criticism. But it’s not a defensible position to hold for a member of Parliament, I maintain.

      • Garry Stannus says:

        Thanks Andrew,
        Basically, I think that I used ‘challenging’ for mixed reasons:
        – I was challenged by my own conflicting views as to what it is to be Aboriginal. Also, I provisionally accepted that your use of the term ‘part aboriginal’ was not meant disrespectfully while on the other hand, I know members of the (Tasmanian) aboriginal community who think such a term is offensive.

        Even so, ‘part Aboriginal’ is suggestive of percentages and ultimately (to me) ignores the ‘three part’ definition …

        “Definition: Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander
        “An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person
        ▪ of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent
        ▪ who identifies as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and
        ▪ is accepted as such by the community in which he (she) lives.”
        Source: Aboriginal Identity: Who is ‘Aboriginal’? – Creative Spirits, retrieved from”
        [see also:

        However, though I agree that Thorpe has shown that she has exercised her freedom of speech (i.e. that it is not with-held from her), it seems to me that implicit in your use of “dangerously tolerant” and “craven and weak” that you have advanced an argument for intolerance … or at least, for restrictions of some sort on the extent to which we should be tolerant.

        Fair enough, I accept the limits that we place ‘on liberty’ and on ‘freedom of speech’. We’ve recognised (John Stuart Mill etc…) that freedom of speech should not be unbounded, that we have the right to prevent people from calling out ‘fire’ in the darkness of a crowded cinema. These days, I think we also recognise ‘hate speech’ and have a Racial Discrimination Act to prevent the vilification of any person or group on the basis of race (including colour and national or ethnic origin).

        Personally, I found Lydia Thorpe’s raised fist on entering the Parliament, confronting. (As I write, I recall Yasser Arafat’s entry into the UN, when he referred to his coming to the Assembly (on behalf of Palestinians) bearing in one hand an olive branch and in the other a pistol. He told the Assembly not to take the olive branch from his hand [for doing so would leave him with just a pistol]. Many who heard reports of that speech found it ‘confronting’.

        Which leaves us with Lydia Thorpe…

        Do we view her brandishing a stick as ‘political theatre’. Is a raised, clenched fist rhetoric … or is it to be condemned, while Howard’s provocative use of the expression: the “black armband view” of history does not attract the same ire?

        Was Thorpe calling for real war … or for the continuation (in some form and public forum) of the ‘History Wars’ (i.e. Windshuttle etc)?

        Will Australia ask these questions?

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