Who you callin' Australian?

Last updated 05:00 24/11/2012

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OPINION: When an English court found that a Kiwi living in Macclesfield, England, had been abused by her neighbour as a "stupid, fat Australian b...." we should perhaps have reported it, more appropriately, as a "stupid fat A....alian bitch".

It was the reference to nationality that was deemed to be the particularly offensive component. And not because it was the wrong country.

It smacks a little of the semi-famous exchange from the second Star Wars movie.

Princess Leia: Why, you stuck-up, half-witted, scruffy-looking Nerf herder!

Han Solo: Who's scruffy-looking?

Such is the capacity for people, real or fictional, to take particular offence at what might be called the secondary components of a tirade.

In this case the charge was of racially-aggravated public disorder and the court noted that the word "Australian" had been used with hostility.

It's not hard to understand how tossing a reference to nationality into an outpouring of abuse can be an act of plainly racist intent and effect.

But if we too easily conclude that abuse + country's name = racism then we should expect to see the police wading into crowds at trans-Tasman sporting encounters with notebooks out, demanding: "Where did you say that lying, cheating half-witted dumb-ass came from?"

Come to that, we might also have to silence most of the high-reproach debates within the United Nations chamber. Some, not everyone, would regard that as a bad thing.

The Macclesfield dispute appears to have been another case to highlight the problem Rowan Atkinson was recently assailing; the too-easily-misused law under which Brits can be prosecuted for using insulting language. Which, plainly, this language was.

It is hard to escape the suspicion, however, that in this case the legislation was useful to penalise someone for generally, broadly objectionable behaviour. Which would be flexible to a fault. Laws shouldn't have secondary uses that arise from being vague or subjective enough to be invoked as and where the authorities are sufficiently displeased for other reasons.

Anyway, if we're on the lookout for the word "Australian" being used in a horrific, racist context, then we need consult no further than the shocking behaviour of a busload of brutish Melbourne dullards who have been posted on YouTube assailing a young French woman who, among others, had been singing in French after returning from a Remembrance Day barbecue.

Expressing national pride for Somewhere Else was, apparently, an intolerable provocation.

What followed was beyond bullying. Beyond menacing. It was vile.

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And in the midst of the threats, the abuse, the intimidatory violence, these puff-chested, ignorant, sourly racist oafs, were chanting "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie!"

Which might, in turn, tempt us to call them puff-chested, ignorant, sourly racist Aussie oafs. But then, that kind of talk might get you in trouble in Macclesfield.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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