I hope I didn’t give
the impression last week that the Howard government’s disdain for
freedom of speech only extended to Muslims. Quite the contrary. Last
week it demonstrated its even-handedness by banning a German far-right
politician who had planned to address a meeting of assorted right-wing
extremists in Sydney. As SBS News reported on Saturday evening:

Foreign Affairs spokesman with the extreme right wing National Democratic Party of Germany,
Gerd Finkenwirth, was en route to Australia when Immigration officials
revoked his entry visa. The Immigration Department says it refused
entry to Gerd Finkenwirth because he is a controversial figure whose
presence could incite discord in the Australian community.

So the immigration department now considers that part of its brief is
to restrict controversy. Finkenwirth wasn’t trying to immigrate here –
there’s no question of having to meet the new values test for
Australian citizenship – he was just coming to a meeting to peddle his
obnoxious views. Views that the government, in its wisdom, has decided
we would be better off not hearing, just as it did a few years earlier
with holocaust-denier David Irving.

is not just wrong in principle, it is also counter-productive. It
doesn’t actually restrict the availability of extremist views – they
are there on the internet for anyone who looks. What it does is give
free publicity to them, plus an air of martyrdom. It creates the absurd
situation where hate-mongers can pose as defenders of free speech.

Are we so insecure in our democracy that we need to ban conflicting views? We already have self-appointed anti-Nazi watchdogs to combat these groups. Let them fight it out without the assistance of big brother in the immigration department.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey