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Crikey Says

Aug 9, 2016

For free speech, 18C is the least of it

Yes, 18C is a barrier to free speech. But there is a much worse one.

“Free speech is free speech, there’s no qualification to it, let’s just remove 18C entirely and everything that goes with it,” Senator David Leyonhjelm told Insiders on Sunday, announcing plans to move a private member’s bill to amend the Racial Discrimination Act.

We agree that free speech is free speech, and although Australia does not have the right to free speech, it should. However, there is a vastly greater threat to free speech that no one is talking about — Australia’s overreaching defamation laws.

The Anglican church has threatened two youth leaders with a defamation lawsuit for reporting alleged sexual abuse of children, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard. One of the leaders said “he and his wife did not report the ­alleged abuse to police as they were worried about legal action following the bishop’s warning”.

In a country where a sitting treasurer can successfully sue a news outlet for a completely true and balanced article showing he was charging lobbyists money for access to his time and insiders are afraid to report serious crimes against children because of fear of a defamation lawsuit, there is a long way to go before 18C is our major impediment to free speech.

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9 thoughts on “For free speech, 18C is the least of it

  1. Rex Auton

    Arguably all of the so-called human rights can be taken away by legislation.
    The only right that is fundamental is the right to dignity – based on recognition of the intrinsic value of a human.
    Hence it is not acceptable to use free speech to damage human dignity.

  2. Duncan Gilbey

    For God’s sake, of all the things that parliament could fix, these clods reckon that 18c is the top priority?

    1. Interrobanging On

      Banning the burqa also…get those two things through and it will be Australia Felix for all!

  3. Hunt Ian

    The right to free speech should be one of our basic rights but so should freedom of association, freedom of occupation and freedom from threats to life and limb. Simple minded thinkers, like Lyenholm, suppose that our right to free speech should be absolute but as the Nazis showed in the Weimer Republic, freedom to denigrate Jews paved the way for subsequent murder of millions of Jews.
    This is why 18c should be defended. Similarly, freedom of speech should be limited to protect freedom of association, freedom of occupation and equality of opportunity, to prevent people being shunned by others and employers by false denigration of their characters or abilities.
    This is not to defend Australia’s present defamation laws that serve to protect the rich and powerful from criticism, even when it is justified.
    But it is to justify some laws against defamation, especially of the poor and powerless, who can be suppressed even more when attacked. You only need to see the example of the Q&A questioner who scored point after point against those who wanted him to become poorer through a GST increase, only to find that he was subject to attack by the Australian for some long gone misdemeanour.
    So, we need to defend our basic rights in part by limiting the scope of the freedoms they grant us, so that basic freedoms are not undermined by the exercise of other basic freedoms. Of the basic freedoms considered, freedom of speech is, in my view, less important than from freedom from attack and equality of opportunity, or the freedom to have jobs for which one is best qualified.

  4. klewso

    We saw how Leyonhjelm reacts when the subject of free speech, in that cameo of his on The Chaser?

  5. CML

    According to Senator Jacqui Lambie on ABC RN Drive [Monday], the ‘NO’ vote has the numbers in the Senate, so the repeal of 18C is already over!
    On to more important issues perhaps?!!

    1. Interrobanging On

      But right-wing nutters get *obsessed* about particular things. Asking a right wing nutter to give up an obsession is like asking the sun not to shine.

  6. AR

    How can I use 18C to obviate the Census?

  7. ech0 8ravo

    Fast forward to the Brave New World of the TPP (TAP etc) and where a consumer campaign foregrounding a dryer that bursts into flames might sit within that framework?

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