Philip Ruddock is right to say that Australia is not a police state.
But the signs that we are moving in that direction are deeply
disturbing. Brian Walters, president of Liberty Victoria, said last week that “our nation crossed a line” with the deportation of peace
activist Scott Parkin. If so, we crossed another one yesterday when
Deakin University backed down on the publication of an article in its law journal by white supremacist professor David Fraser.

According to the report, the University’s vice-chancellor, Sally
Walker, “says she has advice that publishing his article, Rethinking
the White Australia Policy, would breach the federal Racial
Discrimination Act, which prohibits racial vilification.”

Professor Fraser will not find many defenders; his views are rightly
seen as beyond the pale. But that is usually how freedom is lost: the
unpopular, the marginalised, are targeted first, and precedents are
established that can then be used against wider and wider circles of
dissent. If a university is not prepared to defend free speech even for
its own academic, peer-refereed journal, then things are bad indeed.

Was there no-one at Deakin to argue that this was a case that had to be
fought, come what may? That this was a principle that a university
simply had to defend through the courts, and that even if it ultimately
lost, it would be performing a public service by exposing the dangers in
this sort of legislation?

Those on the left who may welcome the silencing of professor Fraser
should think carefully about whose views will next be categorised as
“unacceptable.” Will it be a professor of Islamic studies found to be
promoting “terrorism”? Or a professor of international relations found
to be “encouraging” attacks on Australian troops in Iraq? Or perhaps an
economics professor “inciting” violence against multinational
corporations?

There is not much to boast of in defending the rights of people we
agree with. A right of free speech must protect unpopular speech, or it
protects nothing.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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