Columnist in court after questioning race of leading Aborigines

Andrew Bolt is Australia's most notorious right-wing columnist. He rails against climate change scientists, asylum-seekers and welfare recipients.

But when he wrote a series of columns and blogs questioning the Aboriginality of prominent light-skinned Australians, he ignited a debate about racial identity and free speech – and ended up in court.

In his articles – published in Rupert Murdoch's Herald Sun, Australia's biggest-selling daily newspaper – Bolt questioned why the people he named identified themselves as Aboriginal despite their mixed racial heritage. He drew attention to the fact they had obtained grants, awards and appointments reserved for Aboriginal applicants.

In one article, he wrote of a leading artist, Bindi Cole, who has an English-Jewish mother and part-Aboriginal father: "[She] could in truth join any one of several ethnic groups, but chose Aboriginal, insisting on a racial identity you could not guess from her features. She also chose, incidentally, the one identity open to her that has political and career clout."

Cole is one of nine people who have accused Bolt of racial vilification in the Federal Court, where lawyers have linked the 51-year-old columnist to eugenics, Nazi race laws and the Holocaust.

A judge will rule later this month on whether he breached the Racial Discrimination Act, but in the meantime the issues he stirred up continue to simmer. Debate has long raged about the influences of biology, culture and perception on Aboriginal identity. In Tasmania, where most Aborigines were killed following white settlement, descendants of the survivors – all of them light-skinned – argue bitterly about who can claim indigenous heritage.

In his articles, Bolt described Larissa Behrendt, a well-known author and academic, as "a professional Aborigine". But it was his emphasis on biological descent that prompted Ron Merkel QC to attribute to him notions of racial identity akin to eugenics. His differentiation between "true" black Aborigines and "false" white Aborigines was "a downhill escalator to a racist hell", Mr Merkel claimed.

Bolt insisted that his columns were "a plea against racism". His principal concern, he said, was that prizes and accolades given to the nine should have gone to more deserving recipients.

While he may not win any popularity contests – "a lot of us cringe at the stuff he writes," says one colleague at the Melbourne tabloid – the case has caused dismay, even among his detractors. Chris Berg, a research fellow with the Institute of Public Affairs think-tank, warned it could have "a stifling effect on political debate".

Some commentators regard Bolt – who has denounced the "myth" of the Stolen Generations, the Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their parents – as Mr Murdoch's voice in Australia. Others consider him a maverick. Denis Muller, a research consultant specialising in media ethics, calls him a member of "that ultra-conservative part of the commentariat which is preoccupied by issues of race". "He's in the same league as Fox News, although not quite so rabid," said Dr Muller. "He's not unintelligent and he's a good rhetorician. Whether he actually believes any of this stuff, I don't know."

Bolt's colleague thinks he does. "There's no doubt that he's a professional provocateur," he said. "But he's quite obsessed with the black-white issue."

It seems unlikely that Bolt's career will suffer. The TV network Channel Ten recently hired him to host his own political talk show, The Bolt Report.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballStriker has moved on loan for the remainder of the season
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering