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Free Speech: Warriors, and Worriers

Mark Steyn gets a photo-op with my son Robert, at the IPA ‘Free Speech’ gig last night in Sydney. This greatest of culture warriors is booked out at other cities around the country, but don’t miss him on Q&A next Monday, and other appearances – updates at http://www.steynonline.com/  Regrettably, on the subject of free speech, there is not the same forthright approach even by our best leaders; it is more the approach of worriers than warriors.

I heard Mark speak at the IPA dinner in Melbourne on Saturday just past; a feast of good company and great speakers with Dan Hannan, Andrew Bolt, Janet Albrechtsen, and comments at the end from Tony Abbott. I reminded Mark of my encounter with the thought police last October – which was mentioned at his site under the heading “I disagree with your argument: now go to court” – and that his policy of applying the ‘nuclear option’ to these pestilential ‘anti-vilification’ complaints worked a treat. Basic principle: make the thought-police the problem, and give no ground on the free-man’s right to free argument on matters of public importance.  As Janet Albrechtsen reminded the audience, Steyn formulated it better than anybody else, as usual: 

“Free speech is not a left-right thing, but a free-unfree thing”.

At that meeting, and now in the MEDIA, Mr Abbott and the Coalition confirmed they will amend the anti-vilification laws federally so that someone like Andrew Bolt could no longer be found guilty for ‘offending’ some party. However, while free speech will no longer be suppressed when a party feels ‘offended’, it appears free speech will still be suppressed when a party feels ‘humiliated’. And the practical difference is…?

Senator George Brandis, shadow Attorney General, comments:

“There is a clear distinction to be drawn between engaging in the expression of opinion and comment — even the expression of unpopular opinion and comment — and engaging in conduct that humiliates, intimidates or vilifies members of a group.”

Yes, but there is not a clear distinction between being offended and being humiliated; and given that the Gay Dads complainant declared I had ‘vilified the homosexual community’ simply by defending a child’s right to have a mother, it appears that feeling ‘vilified’ will still suffice to harrass ‘unacceptable opinion’.

Senator Brandis is a strong voice for free speech, and he spoke in favor of my motion to take similar action on the Queensland anti-vilification laws, but I still wish he would delete the whole anti-free-speech anti-vilification section. That would leave seriously deranged statements to be dealt with by laws against defamation or incitement to violence, while leaving all other argument to play out in that inevitably offensive contact sport called democracy.

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