Senator Day – Free Speech and Safe Schools

February 29, 2016

Senator McAllister concluded her speech by asking: why is it so important to remove these sections? Let me tell the honourable senator and others why. Free speech is the hallmark of truly diverse and mature societies. There is no greater threat to the stability of Australia than the silencing of free speech. And, if the government truly cared about free speech, it would want to reform section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. I will say a little more about that later.

If the government truly cared about free speech, it would move swiftly to protect free speech for churches, for example, that wish to advise their parishioners and schools what their church’s teaching is. If the government truly cared about free speech, it would respond strongly to the attacks from the Human Rights Commissioner on the Australian Christian Lobby, who have, rightly, called out the toxic environment in the marriage debate that will result in people who have been exercising free speech being hauled before tribunals.

If the government truly cared about free speech, it would be moving more quickly and more decisively about the so-called Safe Schools program. It would see that the term ‘safe’ is a dead giveaway, a blink moment, when everything you need to know about something is there in the blink of an eye—or, to use a biblical term, a shibboleth. It is a dead giveaway. So-called Safe Schools has nothing to do with prevention of harm and bullying but everything to do with cultivating the Australian version of the bizarre movement in American university campuses called ‘safe spaces’.

The so-called Safe Schools program is about creating state run places—schools, universities and anywhere else reliant on public funding—where anyone can pretend to be whatever they want to be, despite the evidence to the contrary, and, in some cases of children, against the wishes of their parents. The Safe Schools program is antiparent. It was first claimed it was an opt-in program but now we know that in primary schools and high schools parents are not being consulted and children are being exposed to ideas contrary to the values of their families. It smacks of the intolerant seizing state apparatus to drive their view of the world, the latest orthodoxy, down the throats of children without their parents’ knowledge. North Korea gets schoolchildren to tip off teachers, and thereby the state, that their parents have a Bible in their home. Be very wary of those intolerant of different views when they start invading schools.

When our freedom of expression is restricted, everyone suffers. Some will suffer now; others will suffer later. Some may ridicule my ideas today but they could very well be your ideas tomorrow. Therein lies the rub. There is no end to the crusade against free speech. Only a few months ago Germaine Greer was ‘no platformed’ by a British university. The student union pressured the administration to cancel her appearance, writing:

Greer has demonstrated time and time again her misogynistic views towards trans women.

While debate in a university should be encouraged, hosting a speaker with such problematic and hateful views towards marginalised and vulnerable groups is dangerous.

The absurdity of Greer, a champion of radical feminism, referred to as a misogynist beggars belief. This would have been unthinkable until very recently. Although I may disagree with her views, to call them ‘dangerous’ and ‘hateful’ is excessive and manipulative. She has not been intimidating, humiliating or inciting violence. Her crime was simply to disagree with another ideology. It is obviously lost on these self-appointed gatekeepers of tolerance that their position was built upon the very freedom to disagree.

The transgender cause would not have been possible without the help of cultural revolutionaries like Greer. Both then and now the free exchange of ideas affects hearts and minds to bring about change, but will the same opportunity be granted to opponents of these new views? No way. The elites prefer strict speech codes to shield themselves from rational debate. The logic of the opponents of free speech is saturated with irony and hypocrisy.

It is not enough that political correctness has stifled honest debate; now everyday Australians are in fear of being labelled a criminal and sent off to face a tribunal. When we hand over critical, independent thought to state bureaucrats, kangaroo courts and demagogues we are in effect collectively saying: ‘Please tell us what to think. Whatever the cultural arbiters decide what “hate speech” means today I will toe the line.’

Those who dissent should look out. Resisting the latest politically correct orthodoxy has become costlier than ever. Not only has the Tasmanian Human Rights Commission dragged an archbishop across the coals; it has declared that all Catholic bishops have a case to answer. Their crime? Distributing a booklet that says marriage is the best environment for raising children. This describes the Catholic position held for millennia. With just one complaint lodged, investigation and mediation were underway. These complaints do not even need to be legally defensible for proceedings to begin. Bear in mind, the complainant bears no legal costs; it is all on the victim of the complaint, however perversely—they are portrayed as the aggressor and the complainant as the victim. It is now considered reasonable state policy to selectively censor Australians by weaponising human rights tribunals.

Tolerance has become a one-way street. Your views will not be tolerated if they do not agree with the latest orthodoxy. Are we not students of history? Don’t we know the way things play out in history when free speech is repressed?

If you think freedom of speech is only suffering in these state run kangaroo courts and commissions, think again. The Federal Circuit Court is now hearing another case applying section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. A former university employee is seeking $250,000 in damages from students for Facebook comments that she alleges offended her. We are failing our cherished traditions of instruction through facts, satisfying the curious and transforming open minds. Ideas cannot be fleshed out, iron cannot sharpen iron and satire cannot teach and amuse; no, the debate is supposedly over and we all must submit in fear to threat of legal sanctions.

The concentrated willpower of the elites has spoken. What is more, the would-be paragons of virtue, the preachers of tolerance, are almost always walking into parliaments demanding evidence based policy. Yet in the free speech arena, feelings trump evidence every time. British comedian John Cleese, who is touring the country at the moment, said:

The idea that we have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is one I absolutely do not subscribe to.

He is referring to the laws that fellow comedian Rowan Atkinson has also objected to in the United Kingdom, laws that elevate offence above the value of free speech.

People who make complaints to kangaroo courts and tribunals in this environment of weaponised anti-discrimination laws can rely on the high likelihood that these same tribunals will not question whether they were actually offended or whether a reasonable person would be offended in the same circumstances.

If a person says they were offended then that is good enough for them. It is a licence for political activists and troublemakers to use these weaponised laws to silence their opponents and to begin turning the screws on the public presence, business and activities of those they disagree with. Their ultimate aim is to drive those who disagree with the latest orthodoxy out of the public realm and, presumably, off to become hermits living in the woods—or worse if history is a guide.

My bill to amend 18C is a small step towards a return to sanity and a barricade against us sliding into a toxic environment that has given us horrific, tragic and regrettable outcomes in history. The intention is simple: keep the words ‘humiliate’ and ‘intimidate’, but remove the highly subjective terms ‘offend’ and ‘insult’. We must do it now, before everyday Australians hold their tongues in fear of state reprisals. We must restore power to ideas and convictions, out of the hands of ideologues and their would-be utopias. We must resist all attempts by the state to favour one group’s speech over another’s. Only when every Australian is free to challenge and be challenged can real change occur. Only then can truth prevail.

What should be a bedrock principle of the so-called Liberal Party has become mired in controversy. Some 14 senators within the coalition have acknowledged the debt we all owe to liberty, and I applaud them for publicly declaring their support for this bill. I am grateful in particular to my bill co-sponsors, some of whom are listed to speak on this motion. I do not mean to denigrate them personally when saying the government has failed to uphold free speech. They, collectively and unfortunately, are lumped in with a government that does not seem willing to act. I do hope they can win the internal argument that sanity and free speech must be restored. The record, though, at this stage, is clear: the government is not yet ready to uphold free speech. It tolerates everyday Australians, from bishops to unemployed university students, being dragged off to tribunals, facing massive legal bills and losing their right to free speech.