Where are the free speech warriors now?

By April 16, 2019Australian Politics, Media

It was mostly members of the coalition who railed against the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, and in particularly Section 18C of that act1. This campaign got going in earnest when one of their mouthpieces, Andrew Bolt, was found guilty of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act after he was sued by nine Aboriginal people for two articles he wrote in 2009. These articles maintained that pale-skinned people who identified as Aboriginal did so for personal gain2. The Coalition, then in opposition and after 2013, in government, used the pretext of free speech to argue for the repeal of Section 18C. In this they failed3.

The free speech warriors of the Coalition are only really concerned about their free speech, and the free speech of their ultraconservative mouthpieces like Bolt. This was perhaps exemplified by Tony Abbott: firstly, by his reaction to the Bolt decision. He said at the time (in 2011) that freedom of speech was a “sacred principle” and that he believed in “the right of people to say what you don’t like, not just the right of people to say what you do like”; and secondly by his request to ban a popular song in support of same-sex marriage performed by American rapper, Macklemore, at the Rugby League grand final in 2017. Even then Attorney General George Brandis thought Abbott’s call to ban Macklemore was bizarre, given that he assumed Abbott believed in free speech3. Brandis was clearly under the misapprehension that Abbott has principles. Tony Abbott has only one principle and that is anything goes, as long as he thinks it is to his benefit.

Why have I brought this up? Because there is censorship happening on Twitter now. Several quite moderate accounts have had their accounts terminated permanently or temporarily, or been threatened with legal action. Those terminated are: John Wren, Ronni Salt and Don Voegt4. I have only been on twitter for a couple of years but I have never seen any of them post anything that I’d consider nasty, racist, homophobic, or bigoted in any way. Indeed, Labor Party member John Wren used to make up sometimes hilarious fake news items which were more along the lines of The Shovel5 or the Betoota Advocate6, than the lies you get in the Murdoch media. I have no idea why Don Voegt was temporarily canned. He seemed to be the mildest of tweeters and even had a photograph of himself, in a suit and tie as his avatar. Ronni Salt was temporarily canned soon after she posted a partly unsourced assertion that there was some nefarious activity by members of the Coalition government behind the buybacks of water by the government7. Respected veteran journalist Margo Kingston, who did not retweet the Salt attachment, was sent a letter threatening defamation proceedings should she ever do so8. This was presumably because Kingston has significant influence as she has some 35,000 followers on Twitter. She is also a supporter of decent independents such as Rob Oakeshott, Keryn Phelps and others, including in Angus Taylor’s electorate of Hume (see Nofibs9). Respected financial journalist Associate Professor Michael West was sent a similar letter presumably because he has a little over 23,000 followers. These legal letters were designed purely to intimidate them, and only them (as they were headed ‘confidential and not for publication’8) because of their influence. While I am small fry by comparison (with only 1,670 followers), and am probably well beneath their radar, I am a strident opponent of the government and all it stands for. If someone as lowly as me disappears from Twitter, it will show you how desperate the government is to silence criticism, and how hollow are the words of the free speech warriors of the Coalition.

Sources

  1. http://www5.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/cth/consol_act/rda1975202/s18c.html
  2. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2011-09-28/bolt-found-guilty-of-breaching-discrimination-act/3025918
  3. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/sep/28/from-andrew-bolt-to-macklemore-a-brief-history-of-tony-abbott-on-free-speech
  4. https://twitter.com/BlotReport/status/1117605127899107328
  5. http://www.theshovel.com.au/
  6. https://www.betootaadvocate.com/
  7. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/oct/26/78m-spent-on-darling-water-buyback-nearly-double-its-valuation
  8. https://twitter.com/margokingston1/status/1117311530574331906
  9. https://nofibs.com.au/

4 Comments

  • Mark Dougall says:

    Your comment made me think about my politics study at university in the early seventies. I never really did accept the idea of “rights”, particularly those as nebulous as the right to free speech. It always seemed to me that one person’s perceived right was often an infringement on another’s perceived right. As J.D. Mabbott put it rights determined by the state become unmanageable because “preservation and infringement are clearly inseparable”. Rights claimed by the individual on the basis of some imagined greater moral good are also obviously unenforceable. Social Media has created an even more shambolic environment for the management of these nebulous “rights”. My view is that no speech which is political or philosophical is free when it is promulgated. It will always be subject to scrutiny, contest and possible censorship no matter what side of the political divide makes it. It is this contest that determines and refines the value of the content of the speech. It is not free speech that is important. It is what is said, and what it means, and how it affects us, for better or worse. Bolt, Murdoch et al just do not understand this.

    • admin says:

      Mark,
      Yes, It is a difficult problem. Israel Folau is allowed to put forward his ridiculous homophobic and anti-atheist comments, and all sots of RWNJs have come out in support of him, to the point of making ridiculous claims such as he was being persecuted for being christian. He was apparently being disciplined for being a bigot and breaking the conditions of his contract. If people are able to say what they like, then they should not be immune from the consequences. Free speech must be regulated, but how to do it is the problem. I don’t pretend to know how to solve this.

  • Mark Dougall says:

    Yep agreed. Very difficult. The free speech warriors ignore this complexity. Very much like religious zealots simplify things. Who needs thought when there is dogma. As an atheist I am pretty unconcerned about being warned that I will burn in hell. If Izzy is right, however, I will be in good company.

    • admin says:

      Mark,
      Yeah; that is why I am unconcerned about being targeted by people like Folau (I too am an atheist), but the fact that he effectively threatens homosexuals, just because of their sexuality makes me very irate. A good friend of mine was a devout catholic and gay and that was part of the reason he committed suicide in the early 1980s. Imagine what it would do to a young kid who was devout and was starting to realise that he was gay. People like Folau appall me.

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