It has now been revealed that building companies face being banned from doing any work on federal government building “if employees display the Eureka flag or union slogans on employer supplied clothing and equipment”1, according to the reconstituted Australian Building and Construction Commission. This is because these slogans and symbols breach the federal government’s 2013 and 2016 building codes2.
The Eureka flag was flown at the stand at Eureka Stockade, which was where gold miners rebelled against what they felt were unfair laws. As things were, they were unable to claim the land on which they worked, and risked being told to move on by the government, with little notice. They were also required by law to buy an expensive licence and carry it with them at all times, or face fine and arrest. They thought this was unfair and fought at the stockade for change. At the battle, six soldiers and police, and 22 miners were killed3.
Subsequently, the Eureka flag has often been used as a symbol of willingness to stand up for the rights of workers over those of capital, particularly by the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), who tend to display it at most of the building sites where members of the union are employed. Given that the union movement for workers, apart from unions like the Australian Medial Association (for doctors) and the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia (for pharmacists), is the bête noire of conservative governments, it is not really surprising that the conservative freedom of speech warriors have been deathly silent on this assault on free speech. Nowhere do you hear former Prime Minister Tony Abbott complaining, when free speech was one of his main arguments for repealing Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act and, strangely, preventing same-sex marriage4. Nowhere do you hear Andrew Bolt complaining, when it was he who lost a suit brought by nine Aboriginal people alleging he breached the Racial Discrimination Act. After the judge determined that the act had been breached, Bolt stated the result was “terrible day for free speech in this country”5. Nowhere do you hear Senator Cory Bernardi complaining, when it was he who was one of the foremost campaigners for the repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on the basis that it impinges free speech6 (it doesn’t).
It seems that free speech is all very well, as long as it is conservative free speech. This is just another symptom of the erosion of democratic principles under the current Turnbull Federal Government, and of their rank hypocrisy.