Freedom of speech

Return of the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill?

Chris Merritt in The Australian today reporting on the ALP’s plan to resurrect the Gillard government’s failed attempt to consolidate federal anti-discrimination laws in 2012:

Mr Dreyfus has confirmed that if Labor is elected to government he will be considering imposing a general standard for speech that infringes anti-discrimination law.

Under Labor’s proposal, advocates of same-sex marriage would be empowered, for example, to take legal action under 18C-style laws if they felt offended or ­insulted by those who publicly ­defended the traditional definition of marriage. Those at risk would include priests, rabbis, imams and other religious leaders who publicly oppose same-sex marriage.

Labor’s proposal also opens the prospect that debate over the cost of the National Disability ­Insurance Scheme could be truncated because of the risk of litigation by those who might feel offended or insulted.

Mr Dreyfus outlined Labor’s thinking during a panel discussion on Wednesday last week with Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson, hosted by the Jewish Community Council of Victoria.

In the video of the event, Mr Dreyfus said a Labor gov­ernment hoped to consolidate all federal anti-discrimination legislation and would consider whether there should be a general standard for the type of speech that would ­attract liability under that law. At the moment, separate federal laws make it unlawful to discriminate against people because of their race, age, sex and sexual orientation, disability and indigeneity.

When Mr Dreyfus was asked by an audience member if section 18C should be extended to cover gender and disability, he said Mr Wilson had reminded him of the “failed project which I hope to ­return to of consolidating the five anti-discrimination statutes when we are next in government”.

“One of the things we’ll be looking at is this very point of whether or not we should set a standard about speech generally,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“I want to have standards set in a community which respect the dignity of every Australian. I think it’s very important and something to be fought for.”

When asked yesterday about his remarks, Mr Dreyfus said Labor would never support changes to section 18C of the ­Racial Discrimination Act.

“The consolidation of discrimination law was a policy of the Gillard Labor government,” he said. “My discussion of this issue last week was clearly hypothetical, and is not relevant to the current proposed changes to section 18C which will do nothing but weaken protections against racial hate speech in this country.”

Labor’s proposal has come to light at a time when the Australian Human Rights Commission is dealing with a surge in complaints by those claiming to have been ­offended and insulted under section 18C. Section 18C makes it unlawful to do anything that causes people to feel offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated because of their race, colour or national or ethnic background.

Read the rest of the article here ($). And check out the IPA’s fact-sheet explaining then why the proposal was so dangerous.

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Bill Leak’s final speech

Bill Leak wrote his last public speech for the launch of his new book, Trigger Warning, which he delivered at the Centre for Independent Studies in Sydney on Wednesday night. Here’s an excerpt below:

Ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s International Women’s Day, so first I must apologise for not being a woman. It’s particularly regrettable that I’m not a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab promoting a book about what it’s like being a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab. If I was, this wouldn’t be the only event I’ve got lined up on my non-government-funded whirlwind Trigger Warning awareness-raising tour.

When I met the great cartoonist Bill Mitchell about 34 years ago, he said, “Mate, a cartoonist only has to be funny once a day, but it’s a lot harder than you’d think.” He was right, but he had no idea how much harder it would be for me than it ever was for him.

For a start, for Mitchell to come up with a cartoon, all he had to do was take a serious political issue, exaggerate it to the point of ridiculousness, then draw what he saw when he got there. But I can’t do that because the ideas our politicians come up with these days are utterly ridiculous to begin with. And if you’re starting at the point of absurdity, where do you go from there? I mean, what am I going to have to come up with to make teachers in the Safe Schools program look ridiculous when they actually start giving jobs to gimps? And how long do you think it will be then before some gimps’ rights campaigner accuses me of gimpophobia? It’s only a matter of time.

Another reason the job’s so much harder now than it was for Mitchell is because, unlike him, I can’t just breezily assume people are looking at my cartoons hoping to get a laugh. Ever since conceptual art supplanted transcendent art, all art has been reduced to the level of graffiti. And to people reared on postmodernism and cultural relativism who can’t tell the difference between Picasso and Banksy, I’m not a cartoonist drawing cartoons for a newspaper; I’m an artist exhibiting his work in a gallery that gets hundreds of thousands of visitors through the doors every day. And the work of a man like that has to be taken very seriously indeed. It has to be analysed. It has to be deconstructed. It has to be decoded by these people in a search for hidden meanings. And because art, like political activism, is a form of therapy, it’s supposed to reinforce and confirm their prejudices, not challenge them.

Well, bugger that. Political correctness is a poison that attacks the sense of humour. Luckily for Mitchell, it was tipped into our water supply at around the time he retired and, since then, it’s infected an awful lot of people. As the senses of humour of people suffering from PC atrophy, their sensitivity to criticism becomes more and more acute until they get to the stage where everything offends them and they lose the ability to laugh.

For people with chronic PC, feeling offended is about as good as it gets. A good cartoon gives them an excuse to parade their feelings of moral superiority in 140 characters or less, scrawled on the toilet door of social media where every other humourless halfwit who’s seen the cartoon and felt offended too can join in.

Well, I don’t twit, and I don’t face, so most of the time I’m blissfully unaware of all the howls of outrage and indignation directed at me in response to my cartoons — but not always. Two years ago I realised that sometimes I really do have to worry about whether people think my cartoons are funny when I discovered that bloodthirsty barbarians aren’t immune to political correctness and their delicate sensibilities are just as easily offended as those of any precious little snowflake you’ll find in a gender studies faculty at a university. And for your average Islamist terrorist, firing off a few impassioned obscenities on a Twitter feed is no substitute for the sort of satisfaction you can get by hunting down the person who’s ­offended you and chopping his head off.

Then, in October last year I realised there’s another group of people who are just as capable of making life hell for me if they fail to be amused by my wit and artistry. It’s just my luck that causing offence has been made an offence at the same time that taking offence has become fashionable. So now there’s a mob that won’t only punish you if your cartoon offends them, they’ll punish you if it’s ­offended someone else. They may be a little less murderous than your Islamist terrorists, but they’re no less unhinged and dangerous. They’re also driven by the same authoritarian impulse to silence anyone who transgresses against the unwritten laws of political correctness. I’m talking about the thought police at that rogue totalitarian outfit, the Australian Human Rights Commission.

Well, bugger them, too. Thank goodness for deplorables like you, that’s all I can say. I knew I was in the company of fellow subversives, dissidents and weirdos when I opened my remarks with a potentially explosive “ladies and gentlemen” and no one complained.

The Australian has the whole speech here ($).

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The IPA’s opening statement to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ hearing into section 18C

The following remarks were given by the IPA’s Simon Breheny to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ hearing into section 18C in Melbourne yesterday. The opening statement was followed by questioning directed to Simon and the IPA’s Dr Chris Berg. Readers can watch the video at this link.


Freedom of speech is a basic Australian value.

A survey commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs, published today, finds that ninety-five per cent of Australians say freedom of speech is important. Fifty seven per cent say it is very important.

Australia’s commitment to freedom of speech makes this country one of the most diverse, prosperous and socially welcoming on the face of the planet.

Laws that undermine free speech put at risk our success story as a socially inclusive nation.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is one of the most significant restrictions on freedom of speech in this country.

Along with the rest of the provisions in Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act, Section 18C ought to be repealed outright.

It is an excessive, unnecessary and counterproductive restriction on Australians’ liberties.

Alternative proposals for reform would not solve the problems with the legislation that have been identified by recent court cases involving section 18C.

Simply removing some of the words from the section or, worse, replacing them with new words, would be, in our analysis, either ineffective, or redundant, or create even more uncertainty about the scope of the law.

Some participants in this debate argue that freedom of speech is protected by section 18D. But section 18D is a weak and unstable foundation for such an important right.

Section 18D has been applied in just three out of more than 70 cases that have been decided by the courts since Part IIA was first inserted into the Racial Discrimination Act in 1995.

Nor should parliament imagine that section 18D provides any certainty about the law. In the QUT case Judge Jarrett noted a “conflict in the authorities about the way in which s.18D might operate.”

More fundamentally, section 18D places a burden on the respondent to prove why he or she should have the right to speak freely. This is not a requirement that a free country like Australia should be proud of.

Offence is not a moral trump card. Australia is driven by other values – including individual freedom and democracy. Section 18C harms these values.

We urge this committee to recommit to the liberal democratic values that make this country great, and to recommend the full repeal of Part IIA of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Thank you.

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Poll: Australians value freedom of speech

Ahead of an appearance before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights’ inquiry into section 18C today, the Institute of Public Affairs has released polling conducted by Galaxy Research that shows 95% of Australians value freedom of speech:

The committee has received more than 11,000 written submissions and is this week conducting hearings in five capital cities. Today in Melbourne it will be given polling by Galaxy Research commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs showing rising public support for changes to counter criticism that the campaign is a niche or fringe issue.

The poll of 1000 people taken last month shows 48 per cent approve of calls to remove the words “insult” and “offend” from section 18C, an increase of three points from the previous survey in ­November.

Some 36 per cent of people were opposed to the change, down from 38 per cent. The Galaxy Poll found 52 per cent of men approved of the change to remove the words compared with 44 per cent of women…


IPA director of policy Simon Breheny said the poll also showed that 95 per cent of Australians rated freedom of speech as important with 57 per cent saying it was very important.

“Much to the surprise of some members of the media and the political class, free speech matters,” Mr Breheny said.

“It is time for our elected representatives to listen rather than trying to tell the public it is a niche or fringe issue.

“On top of the incredible overwhelming support for freedom of speech, support is also growing for changes to be made to section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act so that it is no longer unlawful to insult or offend someone.”

Read the whole article here ($).

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The IPA’s 18C report welcomed by The Australian

The IPA’s latest report – The case for the repeal of section 18C – was also featured in the editorial of The Australian today. Here is the key paragraph:

In this unrepentant climate, the Institute of Public Affairs’ submission calling for the repeal of 18C is welcome. It argues the law smothers free speech and is anti-democratic because it limits the airing of ideas. It contends the provision is self-defeating because freedom of expression makes society more cohesive and it mounts the case that the extent of the law — particularly the words offend and insult — put it beyond what is required by UN treaties, making it unconstitutional. Yet the more obvious criticisms probably carry more weight. Under this law the process has become the punishment, so justice can be denied at the outset. Also, to the extent speech does cause harm (such as inciting violence or damaging reputations) it is covered by other laws, making 18C redundant. If the law aims to defeat racism, it cannot — no law can dictate how people think. The best way to combat racist attitudes must be through open dialogue and the organic adoption of community standards.

Read the full editorial here ($).

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IPA report: only full repeal will fix problems created by 18C

Dennis Shanahan’s coverage of the IPA’s comprehensive Case for the repeal of section 18C was featured on page 2 of The Australian today ($):

… the Institute of Public Affairs argues the laws deny freedom of speech, erode democracy, undermine attempts to combat racism and have a “chilling effect” on debate about serious social issues.

“Only by removing the law from the statute books entirely can parliament restore Australians’ right to freedom of speech, improve our liberal democracy, and eliminate the sundry abuses that it has caused,” the submissions from the conservative think tank says.

… The IPA said section 18C “does not protect any other natural right that might reasonably be said to countermand the right to freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended. Nor does individual dignity demand this kind of restriction on free ­expression”.

The submission said 18C was also bad for democracy and limited the range of ideas people could express by its “chilling ­effect” on debate.

“Moreover, freedom of speech strengthens social cohesion by exposing bad ideas and malevolent actors, rather than allowing them to fester in silence,” the submission said. “The third limb of the case for repeal is that in practice the law has proved unworkable and unfair. The law does nothing to prevent the kinds of racism that people are most likely to encounter, overlaps with other laws to the point of redundancy, and is so poorly drafted that significant uncertainty about its key terms persists.

“Indeed, the law may well be an unconstitutional exercise of the external affairs power or an unconstitutional burden on Australians’ implied right to freedom of political communication.”

It said proposals to amend the act and substitute “vilify” for ­“insult” or “offend” or simply remove insult and offend and leave “humiliate” would be inadequate.

Read the full coverage here ($). For the IPA’s report, The case for the repeal of section 18C, click here.

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IPA Poll: Most support 18C change

A Galaxy Research poll commissioned by the IPA has found that – of those that have an opinion – most support a change to section 18C that would remove the words “offend” and “insult”. This was covered in The Australian by Joe Kelly today:

A new poll shows a majority of Australians disapprove of the Human Rights Commission for its pursuit of The Australian and Bill Leak over a political cartoon, while there is also widespread support for an overhaul of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

A Galaxy Research poll commissioned by the Institute of Public Affairs shows 64 per cent of respondents disapproved of the HRC investigating a “news­paper cartoonist” because an individual had found a cartoon offensive or insulting.

Of the 1000 people surveyed between last Thursday and Sunday, fewer than one in five (19 per cent) approved of the probe while 17 per cent said they didn’t know.

IPA executive director John Roskam said the poll showed “two-thirds of Australians know what is happening is wrong” and argued the results showed “widespread support” for restoring freedom of speech.

“It is outrageous in a free country that any citizen should be forced to justify their political opinion to the government,” he said. “Labor and the Greens claim that freedom of speech is ‘not a mainstream issue’ is just wrong. The public understands the government should not censor Bill Leak’s cartoon.”

The poll shows only 15 per cent of those older than 50 approved of the commission investigating a cartoonist, and only 17 per cent of those aged between 35 and 49.

The 64 per cent opposition to the commission’s investigation into The Australian and Leak is higher than a Newspoll recently that showed 57 per cent of respondents opposed the lawsuit against university students under 18C.

Under that action, which was rejected by the Federal Circuit Court, students at the Queensland University of Technology were being sued for $250,000 for commenting on Facebook about segregation after they were requested to leave an indigenous-only room.

The Galaxy poll also surveyed attitudes towards changing section 18C. It found 45 per cent of those surveyed approved of changing 18C so it was no longer unlawful to “offend” or “insult” someone based on their race or ethnicity, while 38 per cent ­opposed removing the terms.

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Albrechtsen on the “cult of taking offence”

janet-albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen

Janet Albrechtsen had an excellent article in The Australian today on the dangerous “cult of taking offence” ($) stifling free expression in the West:

To be sure, America is the home of the modern-day propensity to find offence. If this was a cult called Scientology, progressives would be carefully deconstructing its concerning presence in modernity. But the cult of taking offence is a slyer virus because it is largely unchecked. And it’s running rife on university campuses, where it threatens to do the most damage.

… The cult of taking offence has become a determined game of what Jonathan Rauch has called the “offendedness sweepstakes”, and it keeps lowering the bar on what words, ideas and freethinking analysis are to be mowed down to protect the hold identity politics has over academe. Political correctness, the soul brother of identity politics, may have started out briefly in some quarters as a sweet-sounding search for a very civil utopia imbued with respect for minorities. Now it is the weapon of choice in the pursuit of power and control over ideas, words, books, teaching and much more.

Students seek “safe spaces” to avoid ideas they don’t like and even comedians are not welcome: Chris Rock no longer appears on campus because students are more interested in not offending anyone than sharp humour that may offend. Jerry Seinfeld has said he has been warned to stay off campuses too because they’re too PC.

And the result, best described by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, has been the coddling of the American mind where emotional reasoning now determines the limits of university debates. “A claim that someone’s words are ‘offensive’ is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness,” they write. “It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong” and must apologise or be punished for committing the offence.

This made-in-America phen­om­e­non is no longer an only-in-America one. Students studying archeology at University College London were recently given permission to leave class if they encounter “historical events that may be disturbing, even traumatising” — in other words, if they are freaked out by bones.

The coddling of the Australian student mind is under way too. Last week at the University of NSW a well-meaning lecturer teaching a class on 20th-century European history told his students he felt obliged to issue a trigger warning about material they would cover. At the same university last year, a lecturer teaching a course on terrorism and religion issued a trigger warning too. Isn’t the trigger in the title? Isn’t history replete with traumatic events?

The Australian asked UNSW, the University of Sydney, Melbourne University, Monash University, Queensland University, Queensland University of Technology and the Australian National University in Canberra about their policies, formal or informal, about trigger warnings. Those that responded issued bland comments about having no formal policy, with some offering statements such as this one from Melbourne University: “We encourage academics to be sensitive to student needs and some may choose to give warnings about confronting content.” Or this from Merlin Crossley, UNSW’s deputy vice-chancellor education: “Some of our academics and teaching teams may choose to provide trigger or content warnings depending on course materials and in some cases possible confidential sensitivities of their students.”

In 2017 Monash University will introduce what it calls “a radical and far-reaching reform of our education and pedagogy” involving an “optional inclusion of content warnings where appropriate”.

… Indeed, there are few signs of Australian academics trying to ward off the American-born disease taking hold on our campuses. Quite the contrary. QUT vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake told this newspaper last month that the university did not choose to be associated with the current public debate about section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. That’s unfortunate because section 18C, which makes it unlawful for someone to act in a manner that is reasonably likely to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone because of their race or ethnicity, is the legislative extension of trigger warnings that stifle open debate and infantilise students.

… Where does it end? That depends on where we start when it comes to freedom of expression, and currently too many self-indulgent Westerners are starting in entirely the wrong place.

Read the full article here.

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How much does it cost to tell a joke in the UK?

It’ll be £2,000 ($3450)!

That’s what former England footballer Paul Gascoigne found out after he made a tasteless joke about a personal security guard at a show earlier this year.

Gascoigne has pleaded guilty to racially aggravated abuse in a British court, and will be forced to pay a fine for his misdeeds.

The BBC reports that the anti-joke judge expressed his approval that Gascoigne was prosecuted in the case.

Gascoigne has denied that he is racist, and apologised stating that he did not intend to cause offence.

However, under UK law that’s apparently not enough. This case sets an extraordinary precedent, dragging people through courts for making a joke!

It’s no longer clear what jokes are and are not acceptable. A judge can now arbitrarily declare what types of humour is acceptable.

As Brendan O’Neill explains in The Spectator:

[The judge] went on to tell Gazza: ‘We live in the 21st century — grow up with it or keep your mouth closed.’ This captures the tyrannical essence of the state’s clampdown on hate speech. What is being said here is that if you have not fully imbibed today’s mainstream moral outlook — in this case that it’s bad to tell racial jokes, in other cases that you shouldn’t mock Islam, make offensive gags on Twitter, or even engage in ‘uninvited verbal contact with a woman — then you should not speak publicly. You should STFU, keep your warped ideas and humour and morality to yourself, thanks. And if you don’t, then expect a knock on the door from the cops, a fine, and maybe jail. This is profoundly illiberal. Under the cover of tackling ‘hate speech’, everything from people’s humour to their moral attitudes to our everyday conversation is being intensively policed and sometimes punished. The seemingly PC war on racist, sexist and Islamophobic language has opened the door to state monitoring of thought, speech and behaviour.

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