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Leading article Australia

Speak up while you still can

5 January 2013

9:00 AM

5 January 2013

9:00 AM

Before too long, it may no longer be possible to insult Nicola Roxon. So we’d best make the most of it while we can.

The Attorney-General is reckless and ignorant. Either that, or her undergraduate ideology has so blinded her to the dangers inherent in tinkering with our hard-won rights to freedom of expression that she poses a serious threat to our democracy. Indeed, the juvenile thinking behind her Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 — currently under Senate committee review — suggests she is entirely unfit to hold such an important job. Her bill is a betrayal of our history and of our nation and must be stopped.

Already, opponents of the proposed legislation are appearing from across the political spectrum — a clear sign that this is not a question of ‘politics as usual’. Last week, the independent Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland found fault in the wording of the draft bill, predicting uncertainty regarding those clauses relating to giving and causing offence. ABC chairman and former NSW chief justice Jim Spigelman was unequivocal in his condemnation of the proposals, maintaining they would set us apart from other liberal democracies. ‘The freedom to offend is an integral part of the freedom of speech,’ he maintains.

Also speaking out in our cover story this week is Kerryn Pholi, who wrote last year about the insidious political correctness that led to her decision to give up her proof of Aboriginal identity. From Kerryn’s perspective, Ms Roxon’s ‘proposed law strips me of my dignity in a way that another’s malicious remark could never do; it reduces me to the status of a child’. And it is not only indigenous Australians that Ms Pholi sees threatened by the legislation; but rather, she explains how the proposed law demeans all minorities.

The church and the Executive Council of Australian Jewry have joined the criticism, with Catholic bishops warning the bill ‘risks propelling matters of religious practice and belief… to being matters for litigation’.

John Roskam of the IPA, in a stinging letter to Coalition MPs, doesn’t mince his words: ‘The draft legislation is an outrageous attack on the fundamental liberty of freedom of speech [and] proposes to make it unlawful to offend or insult another person on nearly twenty different grounds, including “political opinion”. The proposed law is extraordinary and has no place in a free country. Freedom of speech is core to the philosophies of liberalism and conservatism. Such attacks on freedom of speech must be opposed outright and immediately.’

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Within the next few months, with Senator Conroy’s proposed changes to media regulation and Ms Roxon’s ill-thought-out proposals, Australia risks hurling itself recklessly into an Orwellian world where the freedom to think and to express those thoughts is dramatically curtailed in the media and the workplace. By law.

The freedom to think unpoliced and to speak without fear is our birthright. It is sacrosanct. Time to step up, speak out and be counted, Tony.

An optimistic new year

In her recent new year’s visit to the sunny Woodford folk festival, Julia Gillard was in an appropriately optimistic frame of mind.

‘I’m an incredible optimist and everything about our nation should instill a sense of optimism in us,’ she said, illustrating her words via her personal narrative of rising from humble ‘ten pound pom’ beginnings to becoming our first female PM.

We share the Prime Minister’s optimism for the year ahead, as — co-incidentally — another ‘ten pound pom’ seeks to replicate key aspects of her journey.

Our optimism goes much further, however. We are optimistic that the Australian electorate, wary of the mistake they made in 2010, will decide to avoid Independents and Greens altogether at the next election.

We are optimistic that a new government will be formed later this year with a strong enough majority to implement the necessary economic reforms to ensure big and small business and entrepreneurialism again thrive unencumbered by union interference.

We are optimistic that the extremist ideological claptrap of climate change will dwindle in our national affairs.

We are optimistic that the holder of the nation’s purse strings will seek to ensure we live within our means, and not seek to blame his or her own chronic mismanagement on ‘class warfare’ and cartoonish bad guys, ranging from the ‘crazies’ of the US Tea Party to our own wealth-creators in mining.

We are optimistic that freedom of expression will remain unfettered in our democracy. And that incompetence and ideology will cease to pervert our nation’s governance.

We are optimistic that the chief merchants of spin will soon be out of a job.

Welcome to 2013. So much to look forward to.

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