Home' Policy Magazine : Policy Vol 31 - No 1 Contents 10 Policy • Vol. 31 No. 1 • Autumn 2015
DowN iNto the DetAils
• And let’s finish with the hoary old example of
the Holocaust denier. Would you allow that
speech? If so, what if a group of neo-Nazis
were to organise a march through a suburb
of a town where they knew that over half the
population was Holocaust survivors. Would
you allow that march to proceed?
As I said, if you ask people in the abstract virtually
everyone will claim to be in favour of free speech.
To separate the wheat from the chaff you need to
get down to specifics. So if you find yourself on
the side of speech suppression in more than two
or three of these examples I suspect you’re not the
free speech supporter you may imagine you are.
And my sense is that there are fewer supporters
of free speech in the West today than you might
think or wish to be the case. Certainly I don’t see
enough evidence of it amongst our MPs (both
sides of politics) or on the massively subsidised by
And Now to 18C to Finish
I will be brief here, as so much has already been
written on this topic. To start, on no conceivable
reading of the great liberal philosopher J. S. Mill
would offense (as in ‘oh my feelings have been
hurt’) ever be allowed to trump speech. Secondly,
when I voted for this government last election I
thought that it, like me, was on Mill’s side of the
debate. Thirdly, on issues of principle it is infinitely
preferable to put something to the Senate and to
have it blocked than not to put it to the Senate at
all. Fourthly, I really haven’t got a clue what “Team
Australia” means or why the fear of hurt feelings of
some sub-group of citizens in this country ought to
override repeal of a statutory provision where that
repeal would have significantly good consequences
for this country. No doubt Dean Smith when it is
his turn to speak will enlighten us all on that.
And for comparative purposes, let me repeat what
I mentioned already and what many of you already
knew. In the United States there are no hate speech
laws at all. None. Zero. Meanwhile continental
Europe’s democracies bend over backwards to enact
such laws. And yet if you look to see where the
sort of groups that make up “Team Australia” do
better, including in terms of integrating into public
life and being treated with respect, it is in the U.S.
And if you doubt that political will and
conviction can overcome the self-styled victims’
brigades, you need to go and talk to Canadian
prime minister Stephen Harper. You see, two years
ago he got Canada’s national equivalent of Section
18C repealed. He took at least as much abuse as Mr.
Abbott for pushing the repeal. He did it through
a Private Member’s Bill. There were claims the
sky would fall. For Jews. For Muslims. For Native
Indians. You name it. Not a single horror prediction
has come true. I’m betting members of the Green
Party of Australia and even our Race Relations
Commissioner are still prepared to travel to Canada.
To visit there. To holiday there.
So please allow me to close by offering you all two
quotes from two great thinkers. Thomas Jefferson
famously once said that “the price of liberty is
eternal vigilance.” In the Western world these past
three or four decades you would be hard pressed to
describe the overriding attitude to freedom, and in
particular to freedom of speech, as amounting to
vigilance in its defence.
Then there is my favourite philosopher of all
time, and wonderful person to boot, the core figure
in the Scottish Enlightenment, of whom Adam
Smith once said “he was the most nearly perfect man
I’ve ever met.” I refer to David Hume. And Hume
once said: “It is seldom that liberty of any kind is
lost all at once.” No. You lose it in small steps when
well-meaning people reckon it’s not worth the effort
to defend. And Cabinet Ministers put their careers
and chauffeur-driven cars, and perhaps a core belief
that they can do more good if they stay, ahead of
resigning from Cabinet when a government fails
even to put a needed repeal package to the Senate.
And MPs worry more about the immigrant vote
than upholding a core Western value. And so some
small piece of our freedom to speak remains off-
limits because that is the easier path for plenty
Hume’s point is that taking away the next piece is
easier still. We came close to that with Julia Gillard’s
proposed media laws. I am much of Hume’s mind.
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