The Spycatcher trial established Malcolm Turnbull’s reputation at the time as a brilliant champion of free speech. Personally, reviewing a transcript of the trial, I found his performance perfectly competent but hardly deserving of the accolades which the likes of the Guardian showered upon it, as if he were a second Clarence Darrow or F. E. Smith.
More striking was the ineptness of the British Government’s advocacy.
In fact, I have encountered a rumour in intelligence circles that the British Government deliberately lost the case, thus letting the matter in Spycatcher come out, apparently against its wishes.
Anyway the reputation of Turnbull, the brilliant free-speech crusader, was established.
Yet, at a time when the threat to free speech in the historic liberal democracies around the world has never been greater, Prime Minister Turnbull, the most powerful man in Australia, has been notable only for his apparent lack of interest in defending it. Quite suddenly and without warning, this assault on free speech has emerged worldwide as one of the greatest existential threats to our civilisation. President Trump has said with suddenly resonant words: ‘A fundamental question of our time is whether the West has the will to survive.’ Free speech is central to that survival.
Norman Rockwell once painted a Saturday Evening Post cover where a poorly-dressed but upstanding working man was making a point at a town meeting. Rockwell conveyed that the richer, better-dressed audience were unlikely to agree with him, but were hearing him with respect, and that this was the essence of American – and Western – liberty.
The same America where today conservative speakers are hounded by howling mobs from one university campus after another, with the connivance of cowardly or, and I use the word carefully, treacherous administrations. It is a two-pronged, multi-level attack by leftists and Islamicists.
In Britain a speaker is arrested for quoting Churchill’s strictures on Islam. The Canadian Parliament votes to criminalise Islamophobia. We can expect something like this under the next ALP Government as Muslim influence on it increases, unless freedom of speech is somehow locked in here now – by Constitutional referendum if there is time.
At the University of Western Australia (which proudly displays a larger-than-life bust of Socrates, one of the founders of Western civilisation, who died in pursuit of truth), the administration caves in to protests and refuses to permit a centre for possibly heretical studies into climate change.
The list goes on and on. The Spectator Australia helped expose the shocking injustices of the 18C cases, whose appalling details – an affront to any decent society – are now public knowledge. Yet where is Turnbull, our alleged white knight of free speech? He said never a word, following the QUT students’ case, to support them or, when they won the case before a judge, to have the government pay their costs. If he had any wish for political popularity he might, as a multi-millionaire, easily have compensated them out of his own pocket, showing the nation which side he was on, but he did nothing.
Nor did he do anything to support Bill Leak, apart from the dark comedy of speaking at his memorial service. For a moment, in the face of criticism, he dithered with the idea of amending 18C and even sent me and others an email stating this would be done, then in the face of other criticism, back-tracked and did nothing. If it was important to reform it one day, why was it not the next? It should be obvious to all that the criminalisation of so-called ‘hate speech’ opens the way to broad-spectrum censorship and a royal road to power and control for those who can afford the most cunning lawyers.
There is, I think, one exception to the general badness of speech-control: given the history of anti-Semitism and the fact that it is springing up again all over Europe and can be expected to do so in Australia, there is a case that it should be specially guarded against. The rhetoric of the so-called BDS movement and its associates should not be tolerated.
The Ayaan Hirsi Ali case showed Turnbull’s commitment to freedom of speech in all its inadequacy. When followers of the ‘Religion of Peace’ threatened to turn out in thousands against this heroic woman speaking here, with a clearly implied threat of violence, it was cancelled – a victory handed to the enemies of the values that have made our country one of the freest and happiest on earth. One cannot blame Hirsi Ali, who has suffered so much and lives in constant fear of murder, year in year out, and has almost literally seen her associates die, for this capitulation. She is risking her life daily, and she doesn’t have an army to protect her. But Turnbull does have an army, and if the police could not guarantee Hirsi Ali’s safety, he should have called out that army to guard her.Not to have done so does more than hand the enemy a signal victory and a mighty encouragement. It would have cost a little money, but some things are more important than money. Australia’s culture as a society that holds freedom close to sacred is one of them. To guarantee Hirsi Ali’s safety in advance would have given that mighty encouragement to the right side instead of to the wrong side, and refurbished our reputation as a society ready to spend its treasure, not for a political or military goal, or even to please and reassure an ally, important as those things may be, but to do the right thing, to line up once again on that right side.
To turn out a company of Australian soldiers to protect a heroic woman on Australian soil would have been an example to the whole beleaguered West, and to remind it of the unchanging nature of Good and Evil. To capitulate, as our government has done, shows blindness to the transcendent importance of freedom, and to a cause that should come first in the good governance of Australia. As it is, civilisation’s enemies have had an easy victory. In all probability the next one will be easier. Or perhaps, even worse than blindness, for Turnbull is an intelligent man, it shows disinterest. I have not read every word he has spoken or written, but I have read quite a few, and I can’t remember among them a defence of robust freedom, or even acknowledgement of the world-wide Muslim-Marxoid assault on it.
The world is in crisis and we are under attack. It is hard to remember a time when we were more in need of strong, clear and brave leadership. Freedom of speech is not everything, but it is hard to know what would be left if it is gone. The advocate of Spycatcher ought to know that.