Now we know.

Whenever the opponents of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act are asked what, specifically, that part of the law is preventing them from saying they just roll their eyes and claim that this is a matter of principle: it’s not what may be said that’s at issue but our right to say it.

But, courtesy of the Q Society, we now know that’s complete balderdash.

What they really want is the right to mouth is racist, homophobic bile. Addressing their fundraising dinner on Thursday night at an RSL club in Sydney, cartoonist Larry Pickering told the 160 attendees “I can’t stand Muslims”, but that “they’re not all bad, they do chuck pillow-biters off buildings”. Nice.  

[Knowing your Cory from your Angry: a guide to Australia’s far right]

At the same meeting, former Liberal MP Ross Cameron warmed to that gay-bashing theme by describing the NSW division of the Liberal Party as a “gay club”, and mocked The Sydney Morning Herald as the “the Sydney Morning Homosexual”. (Among those applauding was the one-time rock singer Angry Anderson, more recently known for parading his vigilantist tendencies on tabloid TV.)

The function last Thursday was staged to raise funds for the legal defence of Kirralie Smith of the Australian Liberty Alliance after she posted videos claiming that revenue from halal certification was going to fund “illegal activity” (read: Islamist terrorism). Not surprisingly, she’s being sued for defamation by a Halal certifier, not prosecuted under Section 18D.

The “pro-halal choices” push is, of course, a cover for rabid anti-Muslim prejudice. A cartoon by Pickering auctioned at the RSL club dinner depicted an imam as a pig being roasted on a spit. The words “Halal Certified” were written on its rump. I think we get the drift. The dog-whistle is deafening.

And to round out the night, Cameron troweled on the praise for the Islam-hating Smith, declaring “there could not be a more authentic expression of the goodness of Australian than Kirralie Smith”.

It would be easy to dismiss all this as merely the frothings of a rabid fringe, but the following day the Q Society staged a parallel fundraiser in Melbourne. It was addressed by breakaway Senator Cory Bernardi and government MP George Christensen. Both are elected politicians, being handsomely paid by the taxpayer.

[The Oz has literally written more about the ‘thought police’ than George Orwell did]

Christensen, who spoke at a Reclaim Australia rally in 2015, told the Friday meeting: “I believe we are slowly seeing the erosion of free speech with the myriad anti-discrimination laws we have in this country and the threats of violence from Islamist and leftist groups.” Bernardi confined himself to explaining that those expressing hard right opinions were just “people with concerns”. Sure.

Why should we be worried? Because these are precisely the same types of utterance that fueled the rise of fascism in the 1920s. We should not shy away from Godwin’s Law or the Reductio ad Hitlerium. This stuff is beyond analogy — it is real.

Three years of hyperventilating nonsense in the Murdoch media about the 18C “muzzle” has legitimised the specious claim by those with hardline conservative views that they are somehow being denied the right to free speech. It is not a great stretch to see the hate-driven Q Society rhetoric last week as our equivalent to the Nazis’ beer hall rabble-rousing in Munich.

To its credit, The Sydney Morning Herald front-paged the RSL meeting with a telling picture of Ross Cameron in full flight — snarling mouth, eyes narrowed in hate, right hand raised in a menacing claw — rather like a certain mustachioed former corporal at the Nuremberg rallies.

Meanwhile, The Australian could manage just five pars of coverage on page 7, single column, down the page. Maybe they’re beginning to wonder whether all their ceaseless agitation over curbs on “free speech” has created a monster.

Peter Fray

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