09 8 / 2014

By Caleb Bond

This week has been a dark one for free speech. Prime Minister Tony Abbott has backtracked on his government’s promise to repeal Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Section 18C states:

 "(1)  It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

      (a)  the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

       (b)  the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

It makes it illegal to state or publish anything that may offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate someone on the basis of their race, nationality, colour or culture. It is a law against hurt feelings.

We cannot publicly discuss the negatives of any culture or race in public. We cannot discuss the negatives of multiculturalism for fear of being taken to court for offending someone.

Indeed, Andrew Bolt was convicted under 18C for publishing an article that stated that a number of white-skinned Aboriginals were using their mixed heritage to their advantage, gaining grants and other support. I am not able to publish my thoughts on what he wrote for fear of also being convicted, but I can say that his conviction was a gross crime against free speech, regardless of whether I believe what he said was correct.

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Andrew Bolt. Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

We must understand that free speech is exactly what it says on the box. There should be no legal restriction on what one says or write, other than against completely false and defamatory statements.

The mere idea that we can prosecute people for offending someone is ridiculous. Offence cannot be defined. What offends me deeply might not affect you in the least. Next thing they’ll be making it illegal to swear or salute someone with your middle finger.

Many people, mostly of the left, believe that free speech should only be afforded to those who agree with them. That, of course, is not free speech. There are many people who espouse filth, but never in my life would I suggest that we ban them from saying it.

Of course racism is not acceptable and should be strongly discouraged but there is no need for the government to interfere with what the people say. The citizens are more than capable of bringing people to account. The majority of people are not racist and in the age of technology, if someone is racist in public they will be filmed and hung out for all to see by the media. It doesn’t take long for them to be humiliated. Karen Bailey is case-in-point.

I have no doubt that Mr Abbott and Attorney General George Brandis had every intention to repeal Section 18C, but they didn’t have the guts to finally do it. In a grab for votes they have bowed down to racial interest groups who are looking to protect themselves from all criticism.

But this needs to be looked at in a much larger view.

On Tuesday I was talking to Jeremy Cordeaux on Radio FIVEaa about this very issue. He spoke of a framed poster that has pride of place in his shed, picturing a man addressing an audience with the caption, “Freedom of speech: The most precious thing any of us has”.

He’s right. Of all the rights we have, free speech is the one that we don’t think about very much, yet it is the most important of all. Freedom of speech is the one thing that makes democracy workable. It makes governments and individuals accountable to each other.

Section 18C sets a dangerous precedent that allows our inalienable right to free speech to be trampled over. It makes it acceptable for the government to silence the people and that is never a good thing.

Free speech is the only thing that stands to prevent dictatorship. Any removal of it, regardless of how trivial, is a threat to democracy and a free society. We should not take this sitting down.

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