Recently I received a letter, as NSW Finance and Property Minister, demanding that I urgently remove the ‘Germaine Greer’ plaque from the Sydney Writers Walk in Circular Quay.The reason for the demand, sent from a concerned, vigilant citizen, was that Ms Greer holds horrifically bigoted views on transgender issues, so her name can no longer defile public places in NSW.
Although it was just one letter, it’s a telling example of the Left’s ruthless totalitarian reflex. As Stalin erased Trotsky from Soviet photographs, so Ms Greer must be expunged, our public places sanitised – that’s progress, comrade.
Ms Greer is a particularly interesting target for the Left because she was once its darling; a feminist pioneer at the vanguard of the gender revolution. She stuck it to the man, and is still sticking it to him.
Unfortunately for Ms Greer, these days the man sometimes identifies as a woman, which means the once-celebrated feminist is now guilty of le thoughtcrime du jour: transphobia. Explaining her position on Q&A last week, Greer didn’t retreat: ‘If you’re a 50-year-old truck driver who’s had 4 children with a wife and you’ve decided the whole time you’ve been a woman, I think you’re probably wrong.’ See, this insolent fuddy duddy refuses to grasp that such thoughts are no longer ‘acceptable’. In the ever-shifting hierarchy of progressive issues, the trans-agenda now trumps feminism. So for Ms Greer, it’s confess, recant, conform, or you’re out.
That anyone would think it appropriate to denounce Ms Greer to a Minister of the Crown came as a shock to me. But this is the world we are in: public office holders are under increasing pressure to use state power to enforce the ‘progressive’ agenda. Sadly, too many are caving.
Take Germany, where a comedian is now the subject of a government-approved criminal investigation – for making jokes about the president of Turkey. Or Tasmania, where the Catholic Archbishop is being dragged before the anti-discrimination commission for publishing a pamphlet explaining his own Church’s teaching on marriage. Or Scotland, where the Glasgow police – providing locals with some helpful advice on the perils of social media – recently tweeted: ‘Think before you post or you may receive a visit from us this weekend…’
That’s right McDougall: you’re just one Facebook post away from hearing the friendly local constabulary’s jackboots crunching up your driveway.
Defending freedom doesn’t mean agreeing with every offensive statement anyone makes. A case in point: a few weeks ago some unruly footy fans unfurled a banner at the MCG emblazoned with ‘STOP THE MOSQUES’.
The reaction was swift and ruthless. Eddie McGuire told the ABC that those responsible should be banned from footy. AFL boss Gillan McLachlan got busy ‘talking to the Victoria Police to see how they may prosecute’. No matter that there are no grounds for prosecution: where there’s a will, there’s a gulag.
When a similar banner was unfurled at a game in WA, the police jumped straight in, marching the fans out and banning them from the ground.
When I’m watching a match, I pre- fer not to be distracted by louts with offensive banners trying to stir the polit- ical pot. But if footy codes are going to politicise games with statements about refugees and rounds where players wear rainbow bootlaces and the like, it’s not clear to me why one set of political statements is permitted, and another isn’t; why we’re free to use the game to spruik (invariably left-wing) political views on some issues, but get bundled away by cops for voicing opinions on others.
If you’re banning the Sydney University Evangelical Union for the unspeakable crime of requiring its executive to believe in Jesus (Marx forbid!), more power to you. If your target is George Pell, or Tony Abbott, or some other conservative punching bag, go ahead and spew your hate-filled bile from the rooftops. You’ll be lauded as brave and a hero and get interviewed on ABC, and maybe even nominated for Australian of the Year (or at the very least a Logie).
But if you want to use your freedom to challenge the dogmas of the new orthodoxy, I’m sorry comrade, that’s not what freedom’s for, so put a sock in it. Or else.
As Ms Greer’s cautionary tale illustrates, conservatives aren’t the only ones liable to find themselves on the wrong end of a progressive truncheon.
The revolution always eats its own, because there is no rhyme or reason to the opinions ‘progressives’ endorse from one day to the next. Their beliefs – no matter how ruthlessly enforced – may be useful in advancing ‘progress’ to some fabled utopia, but once their utility has expired, those beliefs can be discarded like last season’s flared corduroys. That’s where serious thinkers like Ms Greer run into trouble. Because serious thinkers have serious arguments rooted in serious principles that can’t simply be jettisoned.
When you abandon your principles, it’s hard to see the point of debate, other than to see who can shout the loudest. Contests of ideas degenerate into contests of fists. That’s not progress.
True progress demands a truly free exchange of ideas, because the best ideas are forged in the furnace of fierce disagreement – the battle of ideas, where wits are sharpened, arguments blunted, minds expanded, and gradually, truth revealed.
Nothing has made this clearer to me than the responsibility of legislative decision-making. Free debate is simply indispensable in that process. But I have felt the chill setting in – the reluctance to speak out, even among colleagues, on matters of huge importance, for fear of falling foul of the PC police.
This is the path to dead-end, unthinking government. If democracy is to survive, we must defend freedom. We must resist the growing pressure to deploy the state’s firepower to enforce a ‘progressive’ agenda that criminalises dissent. Because you can only have progress with a contest of ideas. And you can only have a contest of ideas if you are free.
Dominic Perrottet is the NSW Minister for Finance, Property and Services