Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

The Government’s War Against Free Speech

Jan 24, 2013

I have written before about the ways in which various laws which appear benign and helpful on the surface are in fact nefarious bits of legislation, designed to shut down unwanted opinions and silence non-PC beliefs. Many of the anti-discrimination, anti-vilification, and equal opportunity laws are in fact a direct threat not just to freedom of speech but to freedom of conscience and freedom of religion as well.

Yet many Western governments, including our own here in Australia, keep pressing ahead with such legislation. Indeed, they often make bad laws, and then seek to strengthen them and multiply them. But when you multiply and reinforce bad law all you get is more bad law.

The current Federal proposals on anti-discrimination legislation are a clear case in point. Hopefully by now many of you have put in submissions to the inquiry on this. Of late the press has been reporting on some of these submissions, made both in writing and orally before the Senate committee. Bits of these are worth sharing here.

One news item begins: “Concerns are growing that Labor’s draft anti-discrimination laws are unconstitutional, with experts deeming they would breach the implied freedom of political debate and demanding that they be scrapped in their current form. Murdoch University research dean Augusto Zimmermann and law lecturer Lorraine Finlay are the latest academics to flag problems with the bill.

“They say it would make it unlawful for the first time to discriminate on the basis of ‘political opinions’, which would interfere with freedom of speech and political debate. They also say the legislation violates the ‘basic principles of the rule of law’ and undermines natural justice by reversing the onus of proof so the defendant in any claim has to justify their actions or behaviour. The criticism comes as Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs concedes the bill does ‘arguably go too far’ when it makes it unlawful to offend or insult others, and that this should be changed.”

The Murdoch lecturers’ submission is worth highlighting: “Dr Zimmermann and Ms Finlay write in their submission to the Senate inquiry into the proposed law that it further regulates speech and opinion — which they describe as ‘cardinal tenets of a truly open and democratic society’. They write that, although Australia does not have a bill of rights, the courts have found an ‘implied right’ to freedom of political communication and this has protected ‘insults, abuse and ridicule’ made in political debate.

“The pair say the proposed bill that outlaws discrimination on the basis of political opinion will ‘interfere with political discourse’ and inhibit freedom of speech across the country. ‘What is not reasonable . . . is to have the government of a democratic society target speech on the basis of affording certain people some sort of legal protection from strong criticism of their religious, political and/or ideological convictions, hence allowing the state to dictate what is politically and ideology acceptable. If the proposed bill was passed, it would in our view expand existing anti-discrimination laws beyond the commonwealth’s constitutional powers’.”

Another voice concerned about the bill has been covered in the media. Simon Breheny of the Institute of Public Affairs made an opening statement at the Senate anti-discrimination hearing which began this way: “The exposure draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 is an attack on our fundamental freedoms.

“The draft Bill is not simply a consolidation of existing Commonwealth Acts as the government has claimed. It is a radical overhaul of anti-discrimination law. There are many problems with the draft Bill. The most concerning aspect of the draft Bill is the significant threat it poses to freedom of speech. The definition of discrimination has been expanded to include conduct that offends or insults.

“Given this new definition of discrimination, the inclusion of ‘political opinion’ as a ground on which a claim can be made is absurd and dangerous. Under the draft Bill, you could be taken to court for saying something that offended someone because of a political opinion they hold.

“The freedom to express political opinions in all areas of public life – even those that offend and insult others – is central to the functioning of our system of government as the High Court has found. By undermining freedom of speech the draft Bill poses a grave threat to the health of Australian democracy.

“It is wrong to say that the draft Bill could be amended to a point where it is acceptable. Simply removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the new definition of discrimination will not save the draft Bill. The real problem is the whole project itself.

“The draft Bill is not about anti-discrimination. Instead, the consolidation project has resulted in a draft Bill that undermines liberty and places the state at the centre of our interpersonal relationships. Rather than making the law clearer and simpler, the draft Bill adds significant complexity to this area of law.

“The draft Bill also reverses the burden of proof for claims of discrimination. This is completely unacceptable. The person bringing a legal claim should always bear the burden of proving their case. This principle – the idea that a person is innocent until proven guilty – is the centrepiece of a just legal system. Reversing the burden of proof would create an unjust system.”

Sadly this particular draft bill is not the only attempt by the government to clamp down on our freedoms. Andrew Bolt has listed a number of other major concerns we should be aware of:

“Put it all together, and Labor is presiding over the greatest assault on Australians’ free speech in our lives:
– it has held an inquiry into what the Greens dubbed the ‘hate media’ – particularly critics of the government
– it is promising new privacy rules affecting the media
– it is threatening new laws to control who owns the media – a response to conservatives such as Gina Rinehart buying into media assets
– it is considering tough new laws to regulate ‘bias’ and reporting, applying tougher controls – back by threats of jail – on everything from big newspapers to even small blogs.
– it has punished News Ltd for its critical coverage by twice over-ruling the decision of an independent panel to award News the tender for the Australia Network.
– it proposed new workplace laws that make it easier for workers to sue their bosses if they’ve had even their political views or social origin offended by something said or done.
– it has rejected calls to alter the Racial Discrimination Act even after it was used to ban columns that questioned how fair-skinned people with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal ancestry identified only as Aboriginal.
– it has issued demands and threats to media executives in response to coverage of the Prime Minister’s involvement in the AWU scandal. Two senior journalists were subsequently sacked.
– it has privately warned at least one media boss that running conservative opinion was a hostile act
– it proposed a government-run internet filter
– it plans to save people’s phone and internet data for two years as a ‘crime fighting’ measure – a big increase in the surveillance of what Australians say or write.
What Labor is doing is sinister. It’s sick.”

Yes it certainly is sinister. All around us we see the whittling away of our freedoms and democratic rights. Fortunately a few voices are crying out – even if often in the wilderness – warning us about where all this is heading. No wonder it has been rightly said, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”.

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8 Responses to The Government’s War Against Free Speech

  • It won’t be long before we end up with a situation that existed in Communist Russia and East Germany. We may well end up with Secret Police and maybe even Thought Police with neignbours dobbing in one another. Heaven forbid if that does happen, we don’t want to live in fear and trepidition and having to look over our shoulder or speak in whispers all the time.

    Let’s hope the Senate has an ounce commonsense and rejects the Bill outright.

    I am not a Constitutional Expert but I expect it breaches Section2 of the Constitution which states “The power of all Governments lies within its people, for whom all Governments exist and act for”

    I would say it breaches this section in 3 areas
    1The power of all Governments lies within its people
    The Government according to this has no real power, the power belongs to the people, so according to this the Government can’t act without the consent of the people.

    2 for whom all Governments exist
    This section states clearly that no Goverment can exist without the say so of the people.

    Clearly the Goverment has forgotten this

    3 and act for”
    This clearly implies that the Government is merely an Agent for the people and is required to Act in the best interests of all the people, not just a minority few.

    I would also hazard a guess this Bill breaches some sections of Section 153 of the Constitution which deals with the duty of Care of Governments towards it’s people.

    Leigh Stebbins

  • Back in the sixties and seventies, when terms such as “sexism” were becoming the rage, I was amazed at how so many Christians were in sympathy with the political-correct nonsense that was about. I made myself a bit infamous in the 70s and 80s by writing quite a few non-politically correct letters to the NSW Teachers’ Federation paper. Many of my fellow teachers said they agreed with my views but hardly any wrote letters in support.

    It seemed to take a long time for people generally to cotton on to what has been happening to our freedoms, but at least now there are many speaking out. Let’s hope it’s not too late. The amount of apathy out there is still frightening.

    Bill is doing in a very big way what some of us have tried to do in a small way. We should be very thankful for him and others who spend a great amount of time and effort in standing up for truth and common sense.

    David Morrison

  • The awful truth is always bound to offend, even scandalise those who will not believe it.

    The more lengthy and prescriptive legislation based on the idea that discrimination is the root of all evils becomes, the more excruciatingly ambiguous that legislation will be.

    In a political system based on adversarial checks and balances, to outlaw the allegedly offensive is surely to effectively silence all assent and all dissent, leaving the affairs of a nation in a state of perpetual, indecisive, institutionalised ambiguity and semantic anarchy.

    John Wigg

  • Yes, this bill needs to be thrown out as it stifles freedom of speech. Funny how the Left seems to gravitate to totalitarianism after it’s been in power for a while. Solution: get rid of them asap
    Jerome Gonzalez

  • Hi Bill,
    I find this Bill itself offensive or at least for what I have read about it, it has offended me. Can I sue the Government when and if this Bill is passed?
    Joost Gemeren

  • Sounds good to me Joost

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • This is the email I sent to the Greens/Labor/Liberal Party’s Leaders re: Freedom of Speech:-

    Hello Politician / M.P.

    DON’T change our Freedom of Speech laws; leave them alone.

    People need to be free to say what they like. This is NOT a communist country; where people can’t give their
    opinion on topics.

    I will give my opinion & say what I like – no matter what!!!


    •Homosexuality is wrong – it is not natural.

    •Abortion – the killing of innocent babies in the mother’s womb is terrible/ murder & should be outlawed.
    The Greens are for ‘saving’ trees / whales, etc.; but NOT for saving the lives of innocent babies!!

    •Islam is a terrible religion;

    •Women are stoned to death for adultery, people have their hands / feet / heads cut off
    for stealing / murder, etc.
    • Women are ‘forced’ to wear the veil because their ‘men’ don’t wont other ‘men’ to see them.
    [Whether they admit it or not]
    • There is NO ‘freedom’ in Islam; this religion causes trouble where-ever it goes.
    •In the Koran it says it’s o.k. to ‘kill’ the infidels. Christians & Jews, etc.
    •I could say a lot more but this will suffice!!

    •Tony Abbott is a good person & for ‘women’. Gosh!!!! he has a wife & 3 daughters.

    Julia Gillard should not be P.M., she lied to the people when she brought in the Carbon Tax & other things
    she has NOT done right!

    The Labour Party should NOT be in Govt., because they are wasting our taxpayers money.

    They are NOT stopping the illegal boat people from coming into our country. Money is spent on them – mainly Moslems
    who wont to destroy our way of life – they wont to bring in Sharia Law.

    How many Christians are coming here via the boats? Who are persecuted / killed in Moslem countries.

    Money is NOT being given to hospitals, schools, pensioners, etc., where it should be going: instead of to people who [as it says in the Koran] should not mix with us & that it’s o.k. to LIE to non-believers.

    Our forefathers/mothers fought against ‘evil’ to have Australia free!!! So DON’T CHANGE IT!!
    Thankyou from Darilyn Adams.

  • Personally, I am offended whenever Julia Gillard or any of her handbag brigade open their mouths. Perhaps I should sue them.
    Joan Davidson

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