Although a little citizen journalism in the form of my 14/1/13 post Where's This All Going? may have beaten him to it, it's still a most pleasant surprise to see a mainstream journalist covering much the same ground.
The Sydney Morning Herald's Sean Nicholls speculates in yesterday's issue on what may well be the real agenda behind NSW Premier Baruch (Jerusalem Prize) O'Farrell's decision to mount an inquiry into the operations of Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act. (Note that Nicholls' is one of those rare ms media analyses that dares to touch on, however inadequately and guardedly, the interface between Israel lobby pressure and government decision-making.):
"There has been a fair bit of low-level outrage about the place since news broke of Barry O'Farrell's request for an inquiry into how the state's racial vilification laws are operating in NSW. Most of it is along the lines of: what on earth does a conservative Premier think he's doing calling for an inquiry that could see a clamp down on free speech?...
"The inquiry was announced with little fanfare in the week before Christmas, via a media release published on the website of the parliamentary committee charged with conducting it... While the release disclosed that O'Farrell had referred the inquiry to the committee it was silent on why. When pressed, O'Farrell said he was motivated by there having been no successful criminal prosecutions since the law was established in 1989.
"The announcement caught everyone by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn't have. As it turns out, O'Farrell first mentioned his intention to launch this inquiry more than 6 months ago. According to a report in The Australian Jewish News, the Premier told a Jewish community cocktail function last June that a 'parliamentary committee will be established to examine how the government can strengthen racial vilification laws in NSW'. That this is the first apparent mention of the inquiry will only serve to fuel an emerging theory that this is a backdoor method of seeking a legislative basis to attack the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.
"The conduct of some aspects of the campaign, of course, particularly its noisy protests outside Max Brenner chocolate shops, has been highly divisive... Those who suspect that crippling the campaign is the ulterior motive point to the appointment of David Clarke - a vocal supporter of Israel and vehement campaign critic - as chairman of the committee conducting the inquiry (albeit back in May 2011).
"On the other hand, it remains unclear how a change to the law could make it easier to criminally prosecute those participating in the anti-Israel rallies. After all, protesting against a country is quite a different matter to inciting the threat of physical violence against a person or a group of people based on their race. The closest would be the provision in the existing legislation that specifies the threat of physical harm to property.
"To date, O'Farrell has not fully explained his motivation for requesting the inquiry. He has simply indicated his concern that there have been no criminal prosecutions since the laws were introduced and asked whether the test within the laws, which require 'proof beyond reasonable doubt', meet community expectations. He certainly has never mentioned the anti-Israel campaign in the context of the inquiry, but he has in the past raised the issue of vilification with the Jewish community. In 2009 when he was opposition leader, he called for a review of laws in all Australian states to address racial vilification on social media. Again, the call was made to the annual meeting of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry. O'Farrell's seeming unwillingness to explain himself will allow this kind of speculation to grow, but it is understood that the Jewish community is not the only community to have raised the matter with him." (Look behind Premier's motive)
Tomorrow's letters page in the Herald could make for some interesting reading.