Nothing to lose

…from the quill of Antisthenes the Younger

We have nothing to lose but our apathy. While the socialist government in Canberra tries to ensure its permanent rule by suppressing the last vestiges of free expression, the passive population which can’t muster enough moral outrage over Gillard/AWU extortion scandal and couldn’t care less about the Carbon Dioxide Tax Fraud directly and detrimentally affecting its pockets cannot be expected to give a damn about free speech. You don’t miss what you never had and, if you happened to have it, never used.

The great Australian mental stupor combined with the malicious conviction that it is the frog on the other side of the pot, which is about to boil to death means that Gillard/Conroy clique will get away with the latest attack on freedom. If, if Abbott gets elected LibNats will do nothing to remedy the situation.

Still, some are hoping and trying. Mr Simon Breheny, Director of the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs: Attorney-General Nicola Roxon’s proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws … are an attack on the fundamental freedoms of Australians.

The right to hold and express political opinions is fundamental to a liberal democracy. The Gillard government’s proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws threaten to eliminate these freedoms.

The draft laws will punish individuals who express political opinions, if someone is offended by those opinions while working. Andrew Bolt was censored for talking about race. The Gillard government wants to censor talking about politics.

The Andrew Bolt case under Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act showed how ‘offend, insult, humiliate and intimidate’ on the basis of racial or ethnic characteristics can be used to silence free expression. These draft laws censor the expression of political opinion while working.

Tony Abbott must immediately commit to opposing this extraordinary attack on our political liberty. If these laws are enacted, the Opposition must commit to repealing them in government.”

The past performance of the Coalition governments does not fill me with optimism. With a few notable exceptions, the Federal Liberal and National Party parliamentarians are as amoral and unprincipled as their Labor and Green colleagues at the trough.

The Gillard government’s changes to anti-discrimination laws undermine fundamental legal rights like the presumption of innocence. The entire complaints process has been skewed towards the person making an allegation of discrimination, and fails to respect the rights of defendants. The Gillard government’s decision to reverse the onus of proof in this case shows the willingness of this government to ignore basic legal rights.

The onus of proof should be on the person making the accusation because it is often very difficult to prove innocence. Giving complainants an unfair level of power under the legislation raises the threat of dubious claims being made and makes a mockery of Australia’s legal system.

The draft legislation includes the availability of just one defence, which further skews the process in favour of the person bringing the claim.

These changes demonstrate how Australians’ fundamental legal rights are being undermined. For example, IPA research shows that in the past two years, 12 pieces of legislation have removed the right to silence.” /Simon Breheny- The Institute of Public Affairs’ FreedomWatch

As could be expected, various commentators commented on the Nicola Roxon’s ambit claim, mostly favourably, though some hedging the bets – after all, not all have the audacity of Conroy and Finkelstein to openly embrace censorship by a ruling party. For example, the chairman of the Australian Press Council, Professor Julian Disney, said that “making conduct unlawful in these terms (to “offend”) is an unacceptably broad and severe limitation on freedom of speech. This does not mean that the council believes that vitriolic personal attacks and intimidation should be published or condoned by responsible media outlets.”

Stalwartly left professor surely did not mean that media should not report Gillard’s, Pilberserk’s, Roxon’s, Wong’s etc. vitriolic personal attacks on Tony Abbott, as then there would be practically nothing to report of parliamentary proceedings.

Judge James Jacob Spigelman‘s Human Rights Day wishy-washy oration “Hate Speech and Free Speech: Drawing the Line” delivered before the Australian Human Rights Commission* in Sydney on December 10, 2012 elicited this erudite response from Professor James Allen:

Such is the sorry state of free speech in this country, alas, that an address such as Mr. Spigelman’s is taken to be a rousing defence of free speech when in North America – even in Canada of late – it would be seen by some in quite the opposite terms.

Take this claim by Mr. Spigelman, as excerpted in the December 12 edition of The Australian: “Words such as ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ impinge on freedom of speech in a way that words such as ‘humiliate’, ‘denigrate’, ‘intimidate’, ‘incite hostility’ or ‘hatred’ do not.”

But really, is there anything to that claim? As talented a legal mind as Mr. Spigelman possesses, I don’t think even he can elaborate on the difference between “to offend” and “to humiliate” in any real-life scenario so that speech could be allowed to cross the line on the first criterion but NOT cross the line on the second.

For instance, get rid of the “offend” test in the Bolt case and almost certainly, given the current hate speech legislation and the judge in that case, Bolt would still lose under the “humiliate” test. I can’t think of any way in which a legal test, objective or subjective, could be made to work such that all of us would be free to offend others, but not to humiliate them, with the result that we would actually be left with more that we could say. No, the Spigelman line would leave us almost exactly where we are now.  It would do nothing to expand the scope of free speech or to fight off further inroads.

Trying to distinguish the two is an exercise in scholasticism. And pretending that freeing up the former (yep, you can now offend) but not the latter (sorry, you still can’t humiliate) is some sort of wonderful free speech advance is, in my view, baloney (to put it in the kindest terms possible).

The same goes for “denigrate”, which Mr. Spigelman seems happy enough to keep, meaning that he endorses prohibiting the denigration of others. Okay. But in Canada, until the elected legislature recently moved to repeal their awful hate speech laws, a stand up comic was brought before a hate speech tribunal and fined five figures for mocking lesbians in the audience who had heckled him.

So tell me, Mr. Spigelman, is that comic’s response fine? Offensive? Humiliating? Denigrating? And who gets to say, them or us? And even if it is a reasonable-person-in-the-community test, if we can’t denigrate and we can’t humiliate, there isn’t much offending left to do, is there? And we haven’t got much free speech left, have we?

Or at least that’s my view until Mr. Spigelman can give us a few, real-life, plausible examples of how much offending we can do that won’t still count as humiliating and denigrating, and without the chilling effect of fearing that some unelected judge will classify what we said as humiliating and denigrating.

In my view, the sort of fine distinction that Mr. Spigelman is trying to construct is a prime example of wanting to have your cake and eat it too. Sure, it’s wonderful that a former top judge has come out and said something against the many awful inroads made, and being made, into free speech in this country. And as a man with former ties to the Labor Party it is better still.” [Full article Spigelman’s gag reflex – Quadrant-on-line]

Unfortunately, all this erudition is wasted on the nation of sheep which has nothing to lose.

*/ to defend human rights, freedom of speech and freedom generally before the Human Rights Commissars would require a really brave man

About Antisthenes

A Greek philosopher, a pupil of Socrates. Led a revolt, with Diogenes, against the demands of the city-state and the sophistication of life. Accepted the interrelation of knowledge, virtue, and happiness; and sought the ideal condition for happiness in return to primitivism and self-sufficiency. Rejected all social distinctions as based on convention, scorned orthodox religion as a fabrication of lies, and studied early legends and animal life in order to arrive at a true understanding of natural law. The individual was free and self-sufficient when he was master of his passions, secure in his intelligence, impervious to social or religious demands, and satisfied with the poverty of a mendicant. Needless to say, a person who on the Fog of Chaos adopted the Athenian philosopher's name has nothing whatsoever in common with him.
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