Little noted in the general hilarity that greeted Senator Sprog Paterson’s now abandoned religious freedom bill — nothing says belief in rule of law like presenting an unconstitutional bill to parliament — is that it was another example of the IPA trying to strengthen rather than weaken the claim of 18C/D/E and similar laws to legitimacy. This is a direct result of Paterson et al’s cowardice over these matters.

How does the absurd spectacle of a libertarian presenting a bill to micro-regulate social behaviour come about? Because we have strong anti-discrimination laws embedded in our legal and social fabric, and Paterson’s bill suspends their operation in certain cases.

The obvious, simpler and consistently liberal/libertarian thing to do would be to campaign for the removal of discrimination laws altogether, and affirm the right of property owner to refuse entry or service to whomever they wish.

But, of course, that would open the floodgates of racism and refused service by shops etc, and be abhorrent to Australians, and reveal the inconvenient fact that Australians are social liberals, who support state intervention in public life. So instead a law that seeks to adjudicate on every conceivable situation on offence to belief is proposed — a law which is formally similar to 18C’s notion of material offence and insult.

So, under Paterson’s bill, a bakery seeking protection from a discrimination lawsuit would have to argue that a same-sex couple’s requests crossed a threshold — wording on a cake, involvement in the service, etc — that triggered religious protection. The protection doesn’t trigger, as far as I can tell, if someone comes in and buys 12 quiches for something the baker suspects might be a same-sex wedding.

Thus, Paterson’s bill would invoke the spirit of 18C, and the same sort of tribunal process — judicial rulings on the meaning of social behaviour (usually, but not always, words) by interpreting the behaviour in question. I can’t see how that is not a capitulation by the IPA to the 18C principle.

Straya, where the libertarians fight statism with yet more statism. Solid work, Sprog.