David Marr writes: Re. “Rundle: ‘Hebdoiste’ world leaders laud satire but quash true dissent” (yesterday). I know he’s a busy man, but could someone ask Guy to have a look at what I’ve actually written about 18C? I think it’s an awful bit of law. I have never defended it. Offend and insult have to be removed. I’ve spent my professional life arguing that free speech demands the right to offend and insult people. I pointed all this out when Guy last launched this bullshit attack on me. Weird.

Guy Rundle replies: In the new era when everyone is in favour of outrage, David Marr now portrays himself as an opponent of 18c. Here is what Marr said about 18c in The Saturday Paper last year:

“The present act has to be changed — a little. Hurt feelings should never attract the law as they do now under section 18C. Offence and insults are the everyday reality of free discourse. But this [Brandis’s] proposal goes so much further … Bromberg clearly despised [Andrew] Bolt’s language, but getting the facts so wrong lost the columnist the free speech protections of the act. The Abbott/ Brandis solution is to get rid of 18D’s demand for fairness, accuracy, good faith and reasonableness. With those consigned to the dustbin it doesn’t really matter what a new 18C might have to say about vilification and intimidation. It would be a new era of anything goes in public discourse on race.”

“Changed — a little”. His own words. Marr still wants a state tribunal to decide on what is “reasonable”, “accurate”, and “fair”. So 90% of the power of 18c/18d remains — wrongly, in my view. If David is now going to present himself as a Hebdoiste for the new climate, he is going to make an obvious goose of himself.

Roger Keyes writes: Thankfully, a thoughtful article on the Paris parade of hypocrisy. It’s just that, the hypocrisy, of this chanting about “Free Speech”. How about a chant for “Freedom of Information”, a chant against the secrecy of governments’ intentions, subterfuge and general untruthfulness? What is the point of “Freedom of Speech” when we’re speaking to the deceitful? We get no rational response! For instance, remember the huge rallies, even in Australia against the Iraq War? (And, by the way, the killing of innocent civilians? Don’t mention the war). We’ve had “our say”, as the colloquialism goes, but to what end?

Jim Catt writes: Re. “The fallacy of free speech in Australia” (yesterday). Les Heimann’s remarks riled me up so much that I started to dash off a quick response. Something along the lines that freedom of speech means nothing if it doesn’t include the freedom to offend. Then I realised that I was on the brink of channelling George Brandis and talking about the right to be a bigot, so I stopped for some sober reflection.

The fundamental flaw in Mr Heimann’s position is that it assumes there is a class of people (religious believers) who, for some reason he hasn’t explained, are automatically immune from the sort of robust and yes, offensive, debate that is the stuff of Question Time in matters political, or any argument in the pub about footy teams (as a Kiwi supporting the All Blacks, I have some considerable experience of the latter). I have no particular objection to religious belief, although I think it mistaken, but to somehow suggest that religion cannot be criticised, mocked or even belittled, just because it is religion seems to me to be absurd.

Peter Fray

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