Where statue and statute collide

A SMALL statue of a woman sitting in a chair outside Ashfield Uniting Church in Sydney’s inner west has become the latest flashpoint in the debate over the 18C section of the federal Racial Discrimination Act.

In a story that is also making international headlines, the statue has become the subject of an 18C racial offence complaint by the Australia-Japan Community Network.

The statue is a memorial to the women conscripted as sex slaves in World War II by the Japanese Army.

The estimates of the number of so-called comfort women, who were mainly taken from the Japanese occupied territories in Korea and China, range up to 400,000.

The issue of Japan’s refusal to acknowledge, apologise for and pay reparations for the sex slave victims has long been a source of tension between Japan and the countries affected.

Earlier this year Ashfield Uniting Church minister Rev Bill Crews agreed to host the memorial created by a Korean community group.

A Japanese community group says that the statue and its prominence on church grounds has “offended, insulted, humiliated and intimidated the applicants because of their race, national and ethnic origin”, which are the grounds for an 18C complaint.

The complaint has named the Uniting Church, Uniting Church President Stuart Macmillan and Mr Crews as being responsible.

Mr Crews has been unrepentant and told the ABC that if the group wanted to pursue the court case they should “bring it on”.

“If they want to take me to court let them, I don’t think they have a case at all,” he said.

“Dreadful things happen during war and we need to remember those things so that they don’t happen again.”

The Australian newspaper today pointed out what it called the “irony” of the Uniting Church supporting 18C and now being subject to a complaint under its terms.

Others, such as Coalition MP Tim Wilson and conservative commentator Andrew Bolt, have weighed in to say it is an example of the law being misused.

“This wicked law encourages offence-taking and empowers the kind of people who think arguments should be decided by judges and not debate,” Andrew Bolt wrote.

Does this case undermine the Uniting Church’s defence of 18C?

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