Migrants' son says freedom of speech should not be freedom to abuse

NO FREEDOM TO OFFEND: Phil Mercieca grew up before the Anti Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975 and says it would be a mistake to repeal section 18C, which would open people up to racial abuse. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 0816jk18c2

NO FREEDOM TO OFFEND: Phil Mercieca grew up before the Anti Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975 and says it would be a mistake to repeal section 18C, which would open people up to racial abuse. Photo: JUDE KEOGH 0816jk18c2

A MAN from the Orange area who grew up in a migrant household in the 1950s and 60s says it would be a backwards step to remove part of the Anti Discrimination Act.

Phil Mercieca of Mullion Creek is speaking out to keep section 18C of the Anti Discrimination Act, which makes it an offence to commit an act to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone because of their race or ethnicity.

His plea comes as Liberal Democratic Party Senator David Leyonhjelm renews his campaign to have the section repealed.

“Please don’t get rid of 18C, this is an attempt by some anglo Australians to destroy multiculturalism, 18C is the glue that makes multiculturalism work,” Mr Mercieca said.

A previous campaign to have the section repealed was rejected by the Coalition in 2014 following widespread opposition. 

Those opposed to the section say it curtails free speech however Mr Mercieca said his life improved when it was brought in and people had to stop using racially offensive language towards him.

“Why would you want freedom of abuse?” he asked.

“I lived in an Australia without section 18C of the Anti Discrimination Act and it wasn’t a very nice place, especially if you are the son of migrants.”

Mr Mercieca’s Italian mother was pregnant with him when she arrived in Australia on April 1, 1955 and his father came from Malta.

“I grew up in Newtown when it was a slum, not like it is now,” he said.

He said there were a lot of migrants in the area but racial discrimination was rife until the Anti Discrimination Act was introduced in 1975.

“Back in the 1960s we had to put up with ignorant and mostly illiterate Australians calling us names for just existing, they never talked to you but said you were not integrating when they have never met you, but we were integrating,” he said.

“You couldn’t walk up the street without being abused, people would take the liberty to inform you about your race, it was horrid.”

He said in once instance he glanced at a girl to avoid colliding with her on the footpath and received abuse in response.

“She called me a filthy dirty wog, it was horrid,” Mr Mercieca said.

“They say it is up to you not to get offended but how do you not get offended when you are abused by strangers. 

“All my siblings and I married anglo Australians. My first wife and I were abused for interracial marriage and our children called mongrel bred.”

He said race was even used by teachers at school to prevent him from playing sports such as cricket. 

“We were called grease wogs because we used olive oil when they were eating lard on toast.”

Central Western Daily