Latest newsletter #166 Click to read online

Freedom of Speech

Babette Francis

There has been a lot of debate in Australia recently about freedom of speech, especially in the context of the federal Racial Discriminaton Act and whether the words "insult" and "offend" should be removed from section 18C of the Act, especially when the insult or offence can be interpreted in the eye of the beholder and not intended by the speaker. The Federal Government has set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee into the Racial Discrimination Act to determine whether it imposes unreasonable limits on free speech and to recommend whether the law should be changed. The Committee will also examine the way the Australian Human Rights Commission deals with complaints under the Act, particularly ones that may be considered vexatious, trivial or have no prospect of success. The majority of Coalition MPs want the words "insult" and "offend" removed from Section 18C - while maintaining the stronger protections against hate speech - arguing that the laws as they stand impede free speech.

However, the right to free speech involves not only the elimination of restrictive legislation impeding free speech but also the physical impediments imposed by protestors, almost always left-wing, and often threatening violence at meetings organised by conservatives, to such an extent that the police have had to warn organisers that they cannot guarantee security and the meetings should be cancelled. This has occurred both in the USA and Australia.

* In Australia a meeting in Sydney organised by the Australian Christian Lobby on concerns relating to same-sex marriage had to be moved from the arranged venue and located at a secret site because of threats to the original venue.

*A meeting at which Pauline Hanson was to speak to a Jewish community in Caulfield had to be cancelled because the police could not guarantee safety at the meeting.

* Protestors hassled those trying to board buses for a meeting of the Q society (to be held at a secret location) which was to be addressed by Senator Cory Bernardi and George Christensen,MP.

These meetings dealt with a range of issues: Life issues, Samesex marriage, Islam - but the topic is irrelevant. If it is perceived to be "right-wing", conservative, pro-life, pro-marriage, or concerned about Islam, the Left conspires to shut down the talks.

Which reminds me of our own Regional Event of the World Congress of Families in August 2014: two hotels and two Catholic parishes cancelled our booking due to security concerns, and it was only because of the generosity of Pastor Danny Nalliah of Catch the Fire Ministries, and the co-operation of the local police, that we were able to hold the Event in Hallam as a public event, not shrouded in secrecy but protected by a cyclone fence. Noisy protestors hassled the event the entire day, 8 am - 5 pm.

Conservatives should not have to jump through such hoops to hold meetings. If our Federal and State governments have any commitment to free speech, they should guarantee safety at all meetings, just as they purport to guarantee our safety from foreign invasion. Bring in extra police from other regions or interstate if necessary, but the safety of meeting attendees and venues should not be in question. Requiring organisers to cancel meetings because of safety concerns is a threat not only to free speech but to democracy itself.

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