A plague of political correctness seems to be sweeping this country, seeking to push out of the public arena those who the ruling elites don’t agree with. When in opposition, those who are now in Government spoke powerfully about the need to halt the growing threats to free speech. However, in office they seem to have gone quiet. Yes, the Human Rights Commission is reviewing rights and responsibilities focussing on religious freedom. That begins next month. However, the central and specific commitment to reform 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act was abandoned until Senators Leyonhjelm, Smith, Bernardi and I picked it up again. I look forward to further debate on that tomorrow.
Language is very powerful. The framing of these debates is powerful. Opponents of free speech like to talk about ‘hate speech’. They say that certain things should be censored because they might offend or insult someone. Simply calling words ‘hate speech’ is an affront to free speech.
Here’s the uncomfortable truth for those who hate free speech – those you call bigot, won’t call you a bigot back because, in many cases, they are too decent and respectful to do so. They are people who know that two wrongs don’t make a right. Civility needs to be restored to the debate.
If only that were our only problem. There’s another more sinister problem – the use of laws to prosecute those upholding their beliefs or indeed beliefs held by the organisations they represent.
Take the case of Archbishop Porteous of Hobart.
The persecution of Catholic Archbishop Porteous of Hobart is a black mark on Australian history and free speech. How on earth can a man of the cloth, explaining to his congregation his church’s teaching on marriage, be accused of “inciting hatred” towards those who want gay marriage? The older generation are shaking their heads in disbelief at how out of kilter this is with their Australia. You have to wonder whether this is the Australia our forebears shed blood, sweat and tears to create.
How strange that I should be accused of “channeling the quaint bigotry of a softly spoken vicar as opposed to the thuggish menace of skinheads.” As Max Opray wrote in the Saturday Paper on 3 October, expressing his right to free speech. And what is the ‘quaint bigotry of a softly spoken vicar’ anyway? I spent a number of years working on a building site. I’ve been called a lot of things but never a bigot, nor even quaint, nor am I softly spoken. And I’m not and never have been a vicar. Where do these people get their ideas? But hey, it’s a free country. Max Opray can write what he likes.
That is what people of conscience and supporters of free speech face – crude caricaturing of supporters of so-called ‘hate speech’.
Then there was the case of Mr Troy Newman. Revoking visas has been the preference of tough-on-law-and-order campaigners in government or, in other cases, those wanting to prevent the promotion of domestic violence or abuse of women by preventing rap artists coming to our country.
However, revoking visas has now become the weapon of choice of the same people who oppose so-called ‘hate speech’.
Last week we learned of the intended arrival of Mr Newman from the United States. He shared a video on his Facebook page of his interception by US authorities refusing permission for him to travel on a domestic flight because the connecting flight was to Australia – and Australian authorities had informed their U.S. counterparts that Mr Newman’s visa had been revoked.
The Government was lobbied by anti-life advocates – as the sub-editor of the Sydney Morning Herald would call them – to revoke Mr Newman’s visa, who was coming to address pro-life rallies. Writing for the Geelong Advertiser, a Peter Moore opposed Mr Newman’s views but said “I would have thought that Australia was sufficiently mature to accept someone like Troy Newman, or do people like Terri Butler consider that the community is too fragile to listen to others’ views?”
Now some are urging the Australian Government to reject the visa of Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
To my knowledge, neither Mr Newman nor Mr Wilders have what the Migration Act refers to as a “substantial criminal record”.
They can only be refused if their attendance would promote hatred or incite violence towards others.
The politically correct Newman and Wilders situations beggar belief when you consider it was the same government – under new management, you might concede – that campaigned strongly against these very kinds of infringements of free speech.
Perhaps there were very good reasons for the steps taken.
There are opportunities to get the principle and the narrative on free speech right.
Support Archbishop Porteous.
Work with Mr Newman and Mr Wilders on what they plan to do and say here.
Support my sensible and moderate reform to section 18C of the RDA. The Government promised to repeal the section – I’m only proposing removal of ‘offend’ and ‘insult’.
What’s offensive or insulting about that?
Image: Brett Tatman, Free Speech