Editorial: Cultural Shift

By Right Now | 21 Nov 13
Leaves changing colour in autumn

When it comes to significant shifts in culture, law and society are poised in an agonising “chicken or egg” scenario. Does the law change from above, trickling down to alter a culture? Or does a movement rise up, demand, fight, lobby for a change to which the law eventually concedes? It’s a dynamic relationship that doesn’t obey a strict rule of cause and effect.

Despite the 2011 High Court decision overturning the Labor Government’s Malaysian Solution, this did not result in a change in societal attitudes towards offshore processing. Instead, the Labor Party searched for loopholes whilst the Liberal Party deepened the culture of fear surrounding asylum seekers and boat arrivals. On a more successful note, the landmark Mabo case was a watershed for Indigenous rights in Australia, a verdict celebrated in last year’s film of the same name.

Before the advent of the Greens Party, Bob Brown and fellow activists organised a blockade of the proposed damming of the Franklin River in 1982. In the following year came the Tasmanian Dams case of 1983, which upheld the right for the Federal Government to intervene in the Franklin Dam controversy. In this instance, the social movement outstripped the lawmakers. Similarly, marriage equality has an enormous social presence, yet the law lags behind.

This month at Right Now, we will cover different angles of this theme; from how technology has shifted our cultural understandings, to the need to end the stigma on surrounding HIV, to how the deaf community is perceived (and perceives itself) in contemporary Australia.


Cultural shifts are vital for human rights changes to occur, as journalist Michael Green shows in our fourth installment of the Right Now Essay Series.

Over the past decade, journalists, activists and social workers detected a persistent and problematic pattern; police would approach and question individuals based on the hue of their skin. Green followed the trial in which several African youths challenged Victoria Police, alleging widespread racial profiling. The case dragged on for years, exhausting the complainants and slowly leading them to the conclusion that the court of law was not sufficient to end racial profiling. However, the case shone a spotlight on the issue and laid a foundation for a political movement and potential radical change. It is a single case of individuals suffering the tangible effects of racism, and yet this case also exposed a pervasive, systemic issue in need of change.


In recent times, Victoria Police have faced multiple allegations of institutional racism. In her article  “Forging Links”, Sara Maher looks at Victoria Police’s response, and the effectiveness of community engagement.

Australia is seeing the largest spike in new HIV cases in 20 years. While antiretroviral drugs can fight the virus, they cannot fight the stigma that comes with it, writes Broede Carmody in “Fighting the Stigma”.

Turning to the online sphere, in “Slacktivism – Just One Click To Save the World”, Hsin-Yi Lo explains why online activism cannot replace wider participation, engagement with the public and sacrifice to bring about social and political change. Meanwhile, in “On making Online Culture more Inclusive”, Lyndal Rowlands explains the how and why of the ghettoisation of voices online, and the need for an inclusive cyberculture. Melissa Reid looks at media coverage of Kony and asylum seekers to ask, does our fast-paced media culture need to change?

Phoebe Tay learns about her own culture – Deaf culture – and the similarities and differences amongst Deaf communities around the world.

To political culture, Amy Barry-Macaulay explains government policy based on engagement, and the need for it now more than ever in “Politics versus Policy: Are we heading in the right direction?“.

No media outlet would ever run a story featuring the N word as an adjective. Maddie Smith asks why the same can’t be said of disparaging descriptions of mental illness in “Reporting Mental Illness the Sane Way”.

Where would we be without the movers and the shakers? Isabella Royce answers this and other questions in her profile of trailblazer Nova Peris, the first female indigenous politician elected to national parliament.