Major blow for man who renamed cheese
The campaigner who successfully pushed to get Coon cheese renamed has had his racism complaint terminated despite receiving an abusive email saying he had an "ugly black face".
The hate mail, sent to Aboriginal anti-racism activist Dr Stephan Hagan by Don Harris on January 14, said he was "part of the world's dumbest race" and "a broken, conquered people".
Harris referred to a "miserable black existence" and "absolute inferiority to the white man", concluding with "May the Aryan man rule forever" and attaching further white supremacist quotes.
Dr Hagan said the email had caused him and his wife "considerable distress", adding that he felt "violated and fear for my safety and that of my family all because I dared to challenge the status quo of a racial slur used on a popular cheese brand."
However, the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on Monday told Dr Hagan that it had decided to terminate the complaint without inquiry.
"I am satisfied that it is misconceived and/or lacking in substance," said the response to the complaint from Jodie Ball, the Commission president's delegate.
She said she understood Dr Hagan would be "disappointed" by the decision but that he had "not sufficiently explained" which human right had been violated or how that right had been impaired.
"I acknowledge that you found the content of the email offensive and upsetting and that due to prior experiences where you say you were abused and threatened, the email made you feel concerned about you and your family's safety," wrote Ms Ball.
But she said that the incident did not meet the threshold to qualify as racial hatred under the Racial Discrimination Act (RDA) because it did not take place in public.
"It is arguable that the email that is the subject of your complaint is an act done because of your race, colour or national or ethnic origin and that it would be reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a reasonable person of your race, colour or national or ethnic origin," said Ms Ball. "However, from the information provided to date, the email does not meet the requirement in the law that it is an act done 'otherwise than in private'."
She said the email was sent directly to Dr Hagan via email, and that while he claimed the information was now in the public domain after news outlets covered the Commission's original response, "it appears that this is because you spoke publicly about the email that you received, rather than because the writer of the email caused the words and image to be communicated to the public."
Ms Ball said she did "not wish to detract from the concerns that you have raised about the
content of the email" and suggested Dr Hagan could take the concerns to the police, along with any concerns about his family's safety.
Dr Hagan told news.com.au that while the government has said it is prioritising addressing the rise of right-wing extremist groups, "the AHRC doesn't think it's an offence to send hate mail".
The campaigner said in his complaint that he was travelling with his wife in a campervan from Toowoomba to their home in Darwin at the time of receiving the email, and that the message had left his spouse "scared" and the pair feeling "vulnerable".
He said it could affect their ability to enjoy life for years to come, as they were afraid they could be confronted by Harris "or his like" in public places around their city.
Dr Hagan said he believed his abuser had taken offence to his success in having Coon cheese rebranded as Cheer by Canadian owners Saputo , after a 21-year campaign.
The 80-year-old company was named after a cheese processor named Edward William Coon, but since the word is also a racist slur, the owners said they wanted "a culture that is fully inclusive."
In an email to the Commission dated February 1, Dr Hagan said he and his family "still live in fear of being attacked for speaking out against extremists", highlighting a news.com.au story about neo-Nazis in Melbourne as evidence of such groups in Australia.
He said that Internet service providers (ISPs) were carriage service providers, adding: "If the email I received is not deemed a public act, then anyone in Australia can send thousands of emails to anyone they like and racially abuse and threaten them and their business and that act would not satisfy s18C of the RDA? How many of the most marginalised people in this country can afford legal representation - when the Aboriginal legal service does not fund civil cases - by engaging a lawyer and taking perpetrators to court for racial abuse via email?"
He said that the author could have distributed his "sinister" email on Facebook or a right-wing extremist website and that failing to address this email allows extremist groups to grow, organise and flourish.
"If it is not investigated, you could be seen to be condoning his behaviour," he added.
Dr Hagan added that for the AHRC "to not have discretionary power to discern what is public or private is, in my opinion, a dereliction of duty and runs contrary to both the Prime Minister and Home Affairs Minister who introduced policies to fight the potential scourge of extremism since the 2019 Christchurch massacre".
The long-time activist said that at the height of a previous campaign to remove the N-word from a sign at a Queensland sports ground, his home had to protected by police "such was the frequency of email and phone abuse from people purporting to be from the Klu Klux Klan".
The campaigner said he also had to take a man to court for threatening to shoot him, with the man charged and fined.
"My concern with this ominous email is that Harris - a self-confessed Aryan - could be of the same mind as the above person," said Dr Hagan. He also voiced concerns it could lead to a white supremacist terror attack like the one carried out by Australian Brenton Tarrant in Christchurch, New Zealand.
"Since receiving this offensive, sinister and threatening email I, along with my family, do not feel safe at home or at work," said Dr Hagan.
Dr Hagan in January filed a formal complaint against the owners of popular board game Scrabble for including racist slurs against Aboriginal people in the game's dictionary of playable words.
Originally published as Major blow for man who renamed cheese