And they wonder why their supporters are deserting them…
The whole 18C hate-speech saga is now verging on the pathetic. By that I mean that our supposed right-of-centre political parties, the Libs and the Nats, confronted with a feral Human Rights Commission and the use of this 18C law to go after three QUT students and this country’s premier political cartoonist, have done nothing. Nada. Zero. Has Attorney-General George Brandis stepped up, as he is legally entitled to do, and said that the government will indemnify the legal costs of the three QUT students? No. And remember, they are being sued for a quarter of a million dollars and dragged through the Human Rights Commission hell for such egregious acts as writing ‘fighting segregation with segregation’ after being ejected from an empty ‘Aborigines only’ computer lab. Can’t get more racist than writing that, can you? Better have the law of the land step in and crush a few uppity uni students. Let’s impoverish them if we can, but not before making their lives hell for a few years. That will show them. Right, Mr. Brandis? Wouldn’t want to take sides on this one, would you? Too close a call? Hands off as it’s before the courts? Don’t want to take a moral stand that might affect your political career?
Then there is Bill Leak. Australia is now a joke in the democratic world, when a first-rate political cartoonist can be dragged off to the HRC under the aegis of one of these abominations of an 18C complaint and threatened with being taken to court, silenced and having to pay dollops of money. In no possible universe is this treatment of Leak compatible with life in a free and democratic country. It’s outrageous that a jumped-up, near-on $400,000 p.a. quango bureaucrat can go out and tout for people to complain about a cartoon, and the Coalition does nothing. Not a single Minister condemns the Commissar and suggests that he has to step down. Heck, Mr Turnbull prefers to have tea with the HRC President Gillian Triggs rather than to say, bluntly and unequivocally, that her fiefdom has become a national disgrace and that she ought to resign. Nope, appearing last week on Melbourne’s 3AW and asked about the Leak case the great communicator – remember that claim? – did not vent his anger at this outrage against free speech in a democratic society. No. Turnbull told us that Leak is ‘an Australian, he’s a cartoonist, he’s a controversialist, that’s what he does, but he is a very colourful, passionate Australian of enormous artistic ability’. (And really, in the PM’s preferred inner city haunts I’m sure that’s what really counts, the ‘enormous artistic ability’, not trifles like freedom to speak and draw on basic issues confronting Australia.) Okay, give credit where credit is due, PM Turnbull did also reply, when asked if Leak were a racist, ‘of course not’. High praise indeed, as John Cleese was drolly wont to snigger.
But then Turnbull – even in the face of the Leak case and the QUT case – again reiterated in this 3AW interview that the government had ‘no plans to amend’ 18C. Got that, all of you right-of-centre people that I know who’ve told me repeatedly that they supported the coup against Abbott because of Abbott’s weakness on free speech? Tony at least believed in free speech, even if he cravenly caved in to the pro-18C crowd in his party room and to the Muslim and Jewish lobby groups. But Tony’s since conceded his error. He wants 18C to be drastically peeled back. Not so much Malcolm. Okay, not at all Malcolm. If you value free speech and think Malcolm is a better option than Tony you seriously need to get out more. ‘Hold on a minute’, I hear a few Niki Savva-type die-hard Turnbull supporters say. ‘You are overlooking Turnbull’s half-hearted support for Liberal Senator Dean Smith’s recently mooted plan for a parliamentary inquiry into 18C.’ Actually, I’m not overlooking this at all. I know that Mr Turnbull said that the government was ‘considering’ – not, whole-heartedly and definitely implementing, but considering – this parliamentary inquiry. But so what? This is a joke. Remember how Yes Minister put it? The best way for a PM to do nothing on an issue is to hold an inquiry, the longer it takes the better. All being well he’ll be able to voice a bit of moral outrage along the way to pacify the troops until the issue settles down.
It is obvious that Turnbull hasn’t got the heart for a fight on 18C, Bill Leak be damned. It is obvious that Turnbull’s support for free speech is as enervated and emasculated as what you see in the Labor party. And anyway, what is an inquiry going to show that we don’t already know? I mean that seriously, not rhetorically. After the various lefty GetUp! organisations bombard some future inquiry with their postcard submissions against how awful it is to offend ‘others’ we will be no further ahead than we are today. More to the point, if you think an inquiry will help break the deadlock in parliament on this issue, well, you probably think Bill Shorten will vote for spending cuts and union reforms in whatever la-la land you inhabit.
The great utilitarian reformer Jeremy Bentham back in the early 1800s wrote a book on the fallacies that helped to block needed reforms. Right near the top of his list were those who cry ‘the time is not yet ripe, we need to study the issue more, maybe later’. That is all the Libs look to be offering, and even that requires Turnbull to be dragged kicking and screaming. Okay, I admit I’m white hot angry that I live in a country that allows Bill Leak to be dragged before some jumped-up Mickey Mouse Star Chamber to threaten his free speech. Ditto the QUT threesome. Ditto Andrew Bolt. It would only take two Libs or Nats (maybe only one) to threaten to cross the floor on all future votes until something is done on 18C. So we only need one MP who puts principle above future advancement. Too much to hope for with today’s Libs? To ask is to know the answer. And the irony is that that MP would be a hero. And the public would support him. If you can vote for the Liberal Party at the next election after this display all I can say is you have a stronger stomach than I do.