Peter Walsh on free speech and legal parasites


Nick Cater’s piece from yesterday (posted on FreedomWatch here) makes the point that the late Peter Walsh was not just a passionate supporter of deregulation and economic liberty, but was particularly critical of the authoritarianism that swept the Labor Party.

In that light, Walsh’s Australian Financial Review columns, published after he left parliament in 1993, make for some entertaining, and compelling, reading.

In ‘Perils of Racial Vilification Legislation’, published in the AFR on 11 August 1992, Walsh took up arms against a proposal bill to regulate hate speech:

Violence, except in limited and fairly tightly defined circumstances, is already a crime. So, my lawyer friends tell me, is incitement to commit a violent or any other crime, if such a crime is subsequently committed. Why then do we need more prohibitive laws? Could it be that, the criminal standard of proof being too hard to establish, our social engineers want a weaker or ill-defined standard of proof which they can then apply?

Moreover, the legislation proposed goes way beyond incitement to racial violence and includes incitement to hate or ridicule or hold in contempt on grounds of colour or nationality as well …

Given the linkage between the legal profession and civil liberties councils, and the opportunity the proposed legislation will provide to expand demand for legal services – almost certainly at taxpayers’ expense – it is nice to know that some lawyers are willing to put conscience before cash.

And he took his former Labor colleagues to task for their disavowal of civil liberties:

When I joined the Labor Party 30-odd years ago, long before most of the proponents of this legislation did (if they ever have), I believed it stood for civil liberty – for freedom of expression, Left liberalism or whatever you want to call it. I thought it stood for the sort of liberalism encapsulated by J.S. Mill. Was I wrong, or have some people never understood what Mill was on about in On Liberty?

Walsh returned to this lament for a Labor past in ‘Free speech is under threat’ published 13 June 1995:

Those of us who were active in the ALP through the ’60s should remember how angry the Left – genuine that is, not its bourgeois contemporary mutation – was about the Menzies Government proposals for draconian amendments to the Crimes Act. The Left also harboured deep suspicions about the misuse of secretive D notices to cover up government chicanery. How things have changed.

In the ’50s, the Left vociferously defended freedom of association and of speech by opposing the Menzies Government’s Communist Party Dissolution Bill. The Parliamentary Labor Party, on instructions from the federal executive, allowed a slightly amended bill to pass the Labor controlled Senate. But the Left, Labor and otherwise, continued to oppose the act with ultimate success when the High Court declared it unconstitutional and the people rejected Menzies’ attempt to amend the Constitution.

The drift away from free speech and toward authoritarianism has been apparent for some time. As the cult of political correctness – imported from the United States – became entrenched in the media and taxpayer funded institutions operating on the fringes of government, many potential dissenters have been intimidated into silence.

Only those willing to risk, or impervious to being denounced, as racist, sexist, misogynist, homophobe, fascist or all of the above dared publicly to dissent from the fashionable orthodoxy.

If intimidation and fear of ostracism fail to deliver politically correct speech or behaviour, statutory enforcement is sought.

Considering the Racial Hatred Bill 1995, which gave us Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, Walsh argued in ‘The burden of babbling bills’ (25 July 1995):

[I]f the law enforcement system is obliged to divert resources from investigating crime to monitoring what people are saying and writing, criminals will be more likely to get away with it. [Attorney-General Michael] Lavarch’s bill threatens free speech, not criminals.

Confronted with that reality, engineers of political correctness babble on about the “educative” value of such legislation, which is tantamount to saying, declaring particular actions to be criminal in multiple pieces of legislation will be a more effective deterrent than a declaration in one bit of legislation.

If you have a chance and an opportunity to spend some time in a library, finding Walsh’s columns is worth the effort. Walsh was caustic about the environmentalists and economic irrationalists who had taken over the Labor Party. But FreedomWatch readers might enjoy a final snippet of his 19 May 1992 article titled ‘Lawyers contribute to economic decline”

[Some] activities by members of the lawyers’ guild fall somewhere between parasitic and subversive …

The racial discrimination commissioner Irene Moss recently recommended creating an array of new criminal offences, not for what people do but for what they say.

If this nonsense is enacted by Parliament, the Orwellian concepts of”crimespeak” and perhaps even “crimethink” are just around the corner.

“Environmental” law is emerging as another litigious hunting ground as it has long been in the United States.

Murdoch University (WA) is launching special courses in environmental law next semester and has appointed Dr Greg Meyers “a top US environmental lawyer to plan them” (The West Australian, May 11).

Dr Meyers is reported to have said “there would certainly be no lack of job opportunities for some years for those experienced in environmental law”.

This demand, he said, would continue to grow in Australia because private industry, governments, regulatory authorities and “public interest groups” will all need environmental lawyers.

Presumably “public-interest group” lawyers will also be “publicly” funded.

Given our propensity to copy the worst features of US custom and law, I fear he may be correct.

Whether the environment will benefit from more lawyers is doubtful.

But you can be sure the economy will be worse.

The relative decline of the US economy over the past 20 years is attributed by some to the relative decline in public investment.

A more likely cause is the doubling of lawyers’ numbers per capita in the same period.


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