Those readers not familiar with Australia’s iteration of Common Law might be surprised freedom of speech is not enshrined in the Australian Constitution.
Precedent case law is not particularly helpful either to those believing we should be free to say what’s on our mind, limited only by the restriction of not inciting violence.
In fact, Federal legislation takes things even further in the opposite direction, with clause 18.C of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act legislating against “offensive behaviour” based on “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”. Note, religion isn’t currently in that list.
There are further restrictions in State laws, this being the NSW example. The term “vilify” is used a lot in these versions of free speech restrictive laws.
“Vilify” isn’t a verb we tend to use much in our everyday lives, so our common understanding of its definition might be a little shaky. The Victorian version of free speech restriction law defines it as conduct that ‘incites hatred, serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule’.
…which is, frankly, a blank cheque for any politically-motivated judge presiding over a case. “Severe ridicule“, for example, could be used to describe most comedy, particularly political satire. And what’s the standard separating “severe” from simply “mild” ridicule?
Note also how the standard for the definition is the reaction in other people. Most laws have a punishment for your direct actions, yet this legislation punishes for possible future actions of others as a reaction to your action.
We’re not in Kansas anymore, Toto.
Further evidence that this is not the place to look for brave defence and defenders of the freedom of speech is depressingly simple to find. Examples;
Clearly we are playing in a different ball game to the USA’s First Amendment. A different sport on a different planet, in fact.
However, our brave journalistic class are currently twisting their pinafores in angst and distress over a recent raid of the state broadcaster by the Federal police following publication of leaked classified information.
Let me just run that by you again; the government police are investigating the government news agency.
Oh look, a squirrel!
Here were are though, in 2019, finally seeing our brave media types getting behind a moral cause they are prepared to die in a ditch defending.
Slow hand clap “Well played sir, well played”.
Geoffrey Robinson probably makes the best fist of explaining why the raid was on shaky moral ground, why it wouldn’t happen in the USA and UK and a defence of the media’s right to publish military secrets but, frankly, he completely fails to mention all the reasons we’ve arrived here in the first place, such as the media and legal professions’ failure to defend the little erosions of free speech over the years.
By trying to invent a right to “not be offended”, we’ve reduced the right of free speech, the consequences of which are playing out every day as hate speech laws are subjectively enforced. How else can they be enforced but subjectively, when the definition of “offence” is such a personal one?
Defending free speech is pretty virtueless if you only ever defend the speech with which you agree.
There is no Morality Olympics Gold Medal for only speaking up when your team is attacked. Nobel Peace Prizes aren’t usually as easy as Obama’s was to attain.
I have two questions to all those in the media who suddenly think free speech is important;
1. Where the fuck have you been for the last few decades? And,
2. Do you really think fighting for your right to publish illegally-leaked military secrets is going to be the best test case to take to appeal to reverse free speech restrictions, compared to say, defending some camp clown who writes hurty tweets on the internet?