As I was leaving the sweaty Q&A set at the Docklands Studios in Melbourne, a lefty dweeb in the audience fixed me in his stare. Longer and thinner than a streak of piss, his voice as close to a roar as this mollycoddled generation can manage, he shouted: ‘Mr O’Neill, you are a protector of the elite! Stop pretending to be radical!’ Which was weird, since I’d spent my hour on Q&A arguing that judges shouldn’t have the final say on how offensive we’re allowed to be. And that we should repeal 18C and all laws that police speech. And that we should trust ordinary people over the state to deal with racism. And that letting Aussies vote on gay marriage won’t unleash hatred and homophobia and is preferable to letting the political class make the decision. So it’s elitist to slam judges, the state and politicos and to defend the masses’ ability to think for themselves? Politics doesn’t make sense anymore. If I was the elitist on that Q&A panel, presumably Corinne Grant, comedian turned lawyer and cheerleader for 18C, was the radical. She certainly got the loudest whoops from the rather earnest audience. They especially liked it when, in response to my question of who gets to judge when speech is reasonable and when it’s punishable, Ms Grant responded: ‘A JUDGE.’ Twitter lapped that up, too. It’s bonkers. In the name of standing up to what they call ‘white male privilege’, they’re calling on the whitest, most male, most privileged section of the elite — judges — to issue decrees about what we’re allowed to say. It’s not white men per se they don’t trust — just those white blokes who don’t have law degrees or a sub to the Sydney Morning Herald and whose necks are a tad too red.
During this trip I’ve finally clocked what is so repugnant about the argument for keeping 18C. It boils down to saying that some people — whisper it: non-whites — aren’t cut out for the rough and tumble of public life. So in response to my argument on Q&A that I love hearing hate speech because then I can confront it, a Sydney Morning Herald writer said it’s easy for a ‘privileged white man’ to say this, but what about less privileged, less white, less male people? How are they supposed to cope with hearing hateful stuff, eh? It’s so retro. The idea that we the well-educated must protect ethnic minorities from offence isn’t anti-racism — it’s neo-colonialism. It’s fuelled by a view of minorities as so hapless, so historically shook-up, that they can’t possibly be expected to negotiate public life without having a white-haired judge or white-skinned comedian-turned-lawyer by their side, ready to guard them from slight and barb. And so do anti-racists resuscitate some pretty racist thinking.
I was grateful to Gerard Henderson for pointing out in his Saturday column that my background is far from privileged anyway. I’m the son of working-class Irish immigrants from Galway: hardly a door-opener in Britain. On more than one occasion in Oz, I’ve been sorely tempted to quote a Roddy Doyle line at the leftish neo-racialists who think my skin colour tells them everything they need to know about me. ‘The Irish are the niggers of Europe, lads’, one of Doyle’s characters says in The Commitments. But I’m not sure that would go down well. Hell, it might even land me before one of those white, privileged judges the left trusts to police the parameters of acceptable speech. One wonders what Corinne Grant would have said of the judge who decreed that Oz magazine, the scurrilous Sixties mag that outraged respectable Sydney, was obscene and that its youthful publishers should be punished. Presumably she wouldn’t have had a problem with it, seeing as she thinks it’s fine and dandy for our bewigged betters to decide what speech is appropriate. Oh, the folly! Leftists whoop over the persecution of Andrew Bolt without realising they’re giving officialdom powers that might one day be used against them. They’ve yet to learn Thomas Paine’s lesson: ‘He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty, he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.’
The gay-marriage debate down here gets madder by the day. The fear of the plebiscite has morphed into a full-on moral panic about the mob and the dangers of democracy. If we ask the little people about this sensitive issue, they’ll only go and vomit up homo-hating bigotry, apparently. Richard Di Natale went so far as to say that the ‘hateful’ bile a marriage plebiscite would unleash might even cause young gay people to kill themselves. What a warped view they have of the public: as a pogrom-in-waiting, a latent hateful riot waiting for a green light to let it all out. Again with the elitism: apparently only officialdom, being cool-headed and not scum, can be trusted to make a call on something like gay marriage. Where are all these bigots anyway? I didn’t encounter any at the four talks I did for the Australian Christian Lobby. I met thoughtful, liberal-minded people, opposed to gay marriage, yes, but not homophobic. So often today, the true bigots are those who bang on about bigotry: those who see racism in every nook of society, hatred in every Christian campaign, a lingering loathing for Indigenous people among ordinary white Australians. In claiming to oppose bigotry, these anti-bigots, these 18C-supporting, plebiscite-fearing, mob-allergic thinkers and activists, reveal their own bigoted view of Australia as stuffed with nasty, ugly people whose passions must be kept in check by the law and us decent folks.At pretty much every talk a perplexed-looking audience member said something like: ‘I like you. You make sense. So what’s all this about being a Trotskyist?’ In response, I quoted my favourite Trotsky line: ‘We must increase the power of man over nature and abolish the power of man over man.’ That’s my political worldview in a nutshell. If it’s yours too, maybe you’re also a Trotskyist? Come, join me.