The sorry state of free speech in this country appears to concern a lot of people in this country. The Andrew Bolt saga under the wholly illiberal 18C hate speech laws was bad enough – awful in fact – but the ongoing plight of the QUT students is even worse. You are a fee-paying uni student who gets thrown out of a uni computer lab based solely on not being ‘indigenous’ and, after leaving, you shortly thereafter go online and write ‘QUT stopping segregation with segregation’ (one student) or ‘I wonder where the white supremacist computer lab is’ (another). What happens? Under this country’s despicable 18C law you end up being sued for near on a quarter of a million dollars.
Of course, first the complainant goes to the Human Rights Commission (‘HRC’). This is the body that has a Race Relations Commissioner who used to work for the Labor Party and who has been trying to drum up business by urging people to complain about that recent Bill Leak cartoon. Oh, and it’s the same body that recently had a vacancy when Tim Wilson left and George Brandis and the Libs replaced Wilson with (wait for it) Ed Santow. Yep, apparently you can’t find a single Liberal lawyer (or non-lawyer) in the entire country so you appoint a lefty to be the Wilson replacement as ‘Freedom Commissioner’. And this replacement has yet to utter a single, solitary word about this QUT fiasco. That’s your Liberal Party at work.
The HRC did not tell these students that the plaintiff was launching actions against them until 790 days – well over two years – after the original incident. Worse, some of the students paid up to $5,000 to make this nightmare go away, and because they were afraid they would always be labelled ‘racists’ for, well, nothing. Disgracefully, the Attorney-General, that same George Brandis, has the power to indemnify these students’ legal costs, but refuses to do so.
Most importantly of all, do you realise that even if these students win in the Federal Court (and the judgment will be handed down very soon) they will have lost? As the great Canadian Mark Steyn says – and he is a man very familiar with these sort of attempts to silence wholly legitimate speech via ‘lawfare’ – ‘the process is the punishment, you lose even if you end up winning in court’. Totally true here too, though should the judge decide in favour of the students expect more than a few Liberal Cabinet Ministers to trot out and say ‘the system worked, nothing to see here, look elsewhere now please’.
This is a God-awful blight on this country’s self-image as a liberal democracy. And we now have a Liberal Prime Minister who pooh-poohs the whole thing away and says his government – ‘Team Turnbull’ was how they described themselves during the recent election campaign, which in a way is fair as there is next to nothing about them that looks, well, ‘liberal’ – has other priorities. I assume that means things like screwing up the whole superannuation system by wrecking everyone’s confidence in it who isn’t on one of those gold-plated, inflation indexed Defined Benefit Schemes where the lifetime value with today’s interest rates amounts to an equivalent lump sum of 3 or 4 times the proposed $1.6 million that Herr Morrison thinks is enough for you to retire on. Don’t you just love it when top Treasury people with these privileges, as well as past and present politicos with the same thing, preach to the rest of us about doing our bit to cut the debt? After you my friends, after you. (Hint: They think they’ve earned theirs, but you haven’t.)
Going back to Mr Turnbull, he’s actually worse on free speech than just saying his ‘Team’ has other priorities. He has actually ordered his frontbench, Cabinet, not to vote in favour of Bob Day’s Private Member’s Bill to enervate the worst bits of 18C. We know not a single Minister will resign in disgust.
So here’s the point. Plenty of people out there appear to lament the sorry state of free speech in this country, and the fact we now have a capital ‘L’ Liberal government that when faced with patent illiberality ‘has other priorities’. But here’s the thing. At the end of the day the fault is the voters’ fault. If the inroads into free speech matter to you enough, you can fix it. Don’t vote for the Libs until they promise to do something about 18C, either amending it, or preferably, repealing it. If you say you care about free speech but then vote Libs because you think Labor will hit your super a bit harder, then you’re just like the virtue-signalling ‘Je suis Charlie’ crowd. You don’t really care. And the Libs therefore don’t have to act.
Of course it is true that there’s also a co-ordination problem at work here. If you are going to withhold your vote from the Libs until they grow some cojones on free speech then you’d like some idea of how many others out there will too. This is good for various reasons. First off, maybe it’s just a sad truth that few Australians today really do care about free speech. Knowing that, depressing as it may be, is useful. Alternatively, maybe there is a lot of concern, as I think there is, and finding some way to show that will let us co-ordinate that sentiment and indicate to the Libs that this is the case. (I fear that despite free speech historically being a left-wing cause that is no longer the case today and that Labor basically has given up on the J.S. Mill notion that confronting, offensive views with which you disagree absolutely should be protected.)
In conjunction with The Spectator Australia, here is what I propose; a register of names supporting the amendment or repeal of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. If, and only if, you really mean that you will not vote Liberal until the party does something about 18C then come and sign up. We hope to involve as many support groups on the freedom-loving side of politics as possible. And we’ll see how many will sign up, how many of you who say you care about free speech will put your vote where your mouth is. Presumably we have some time till the next election, time for you to show ‘Team Turnbull’ that for you this is not a second or third order priority.
The goal here is to separate the hypocrites and bumper sticker virtue-signallers from those who think fixing free speech is one of this country’s top priorities. If you’re one of the latter, sign up.