Witness reaction ruled admissible in racial vilification case against Pauline Hanson

Headshot of Remy Varga
Remy Varga
The Nightly
Mehreen Faruqi, the Lady of Lahore, and Pauline Hanson, the Incel of Ipswich, are not polite people.
Mehreen Faruqi, the Lady of Lahore, and Pauline Hanson, the Incel of Ipswich, are not polite people. Credit: The Nightly

Witness accounts detailing how a public message made them feel will be used as evidence in a racial vilification case brought by Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi against One Nation founder Pauline Hanson.

Federal Court judge Angus Stewart on Tuesday ruled the affidavits of nine witnesses were admissible as evidence in the case that will test sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Senator Hanson had challenged the witness accounts as reaction and anecdotal evidence, saying the affidavits were irrelevant, anecdotal, inadmissible opinion as well as prejudicial, misleading and a waste of time.

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But Justice Stewart ruled that the accounts concerned how the nine individuals responded to Senator Hanson’s public message and whether reading it had left them feeling offended, humiliated or insulted.

“The reaction evidence is the evidence of the person concerned on how they responded to the tweet, or how it made them feel,” he said.

“More specifically, it deals with whether they were offended, insulted or humiliated by the tweet.

“The anecdotal evidence is evidence by them of their lived experience of racism or other forms of discrimination or prejudice.”

Following the death of Queen Elizabeth II in September 2022, Senator Faruqi published a message on the social platform X, formerly known as Twitter.

“Condolences to those who knew the Queen. I cannot mourn the leader of a racist empire built on stolen lives, land and wealth of colonised peoples,” she said.

“We are reminded of the urgency of Treaty with First Nations, justice and reparations for British colonies & becoming a republic.”

In response, Senator Hanson said on X that Senator Faruqi’s attitude disgusted and appalled her before telling the Greens senator to “pack your bags and piss off back to Pakistan”.

“When you immigrated to Australia you took every advantage of this country,” said Senator Hanson.

“You took citizenship, bought multiple homes, and a job in a parliament. It’s clear you’re not happy, so pack your bags and piss off back to Pakistan.”

Pauline Hanson announces Ben Dawkins as One Nation candidate at Parliament House
Pauline Hanson had challenged the witness accounts as reaction and anecdotal evidence. Credit: Halim Mellick/The West Australian

Senator Faruqi said she had been subject to a torrent of abusive phone calls, social media posts and hate mail because of Senator Hanson’s message.

Senator Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan, is claiming Hanson engaged in unlawful offensive behavior because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin under the Racial Discrimination Act.

Specifically, the deputy Greens leader claims the message was unlawful under 18C of the RDA, which states that it is unlawful to public act in a way that is reasonably likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person due to their race, colour or national and ethnic origin.

Eight of the nine witnesses who authored affidavits said they saw Senator Hanson’s message in the context of Senator Faruqi’s message while the remaining witness saw it after reading articles online.

Justice Stewart on Tuesday said the witnesses were giving evidence on their “own states of mind” after reading Senator Hanson’s message and giving context as to whether it was reasonably likely an individual would be offended.

He also ruled expert evidence on the impact of racism on an individual and the impact of racist rhetoric based as admissible after Senator Hanson claimed they were irrelevant.

“Section 18c is aimed at combatting racism in Australia,” said Justice Stewart.

“I reject the contention that the impact of racism on individuals and society is irrelevant.”

The evidence will include news reports of Senator Hanson’s comments as well as books, media releases and social media statements published by the One Nation founder.

Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi is claiming Hanson engaged in unlawful offensive behavior because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin under the Racial Discrimination Act. 
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi is claiming Hanson engaged in unlawful offensive behavior because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin under the Racial Discrimination Act.  Credit: Mehreen Faruqi/Twitter/Mehreen Faruqi/Twitter

Lawyers acting on behalf of Senator Faruqi published a form on the internet in June 2023 inviting people to share the impact Senator Hanson’s tweet had on them to collect evidence from the public, including from individuals born in Pakistan like the Greens deputy leader.

The “How did it make you feel” form was shared on social media and 776 people responded, including 650 who said they experienced offense, insult, humiliation, and or intimidation due to Senator Hanson’s message and 494 with the same backgrounds as Senator Faruqi.

Senator Hanson is defending the message as reasonable, sent in good faith and making a fair comment on an event or a matter of public interest.

The One Nation founder is also claiming that sections 18C and 18D infringe on the implied freedom of political communication in the constitution. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfuss has intervened to, if required, defend the constitutionality of sections 18C and 18D of the RDA.

The matter is listed for a five day hearing commencing on April 29 in 2024.

The Nightly approached Senator Faruqi and Senator Hanson for comment.

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