Freedom, an overrated ‘fad’ not worth fighting for? Or a right worth fighting for?

Australia is often described as the ‘lucky country’, but having the right to free speech should not be a matter of luck, it should not have anything to do with the whim of the Human Rights Commissioner, but it should be a right that is enshrined in a ‘Bill of Rights’. Then we would truly have freedom of speech, whereby no one would have the right to arbitrate what is wrong or right speech, but all speech would be truly free, free from interference from faceless bureaucrats, who are so far removed from the realities of life, who don’t understand the worries of the man on the street. It is time that we adopt a ‘Bill of Rights’ to establish and protect, not only our freedom of speech, but our liberty in general.

This is not just my opinion. Michael Kirby, former Puisne Justice of the High Court of Australia says, ‘We don’t have any domestic institution of our own, by way of a charter of rights, or bill of rights, by which we can give the citizens the opportunity to bring to the law, and to a decision maker cases where parliament has failed to deal with the problem, or where because their a minority, the democratic nature of parliament, and the relatively few people who control the sources of parliamentarians, can look after the majority, and not necessarily the minority, whether they’re prisoners, refugees’. Justice Kirby then went onto say ‘that this is just a feature of a democratic modern community (a bill of rights)’, thereby implying that we are tracking behind all the other western nations in the world, and I couldn’t agree more with Justice Kirby.

If we don’t adopt a Bill of Rights, and give our freedom of speech some legal protection, the thought provoking, and the provocative, could become illegal if it offends an intolerant individual who doesn’t like their thoughts, their ideas and their world view to be challenged. Those who make it their goal to stifle free speech, labelling it as ‘hate speech’ when it doesn’t conform to their prism of understanding are fearful that their shallow thinking, and weak arguments will not stand the test of time. Not convinced? Freedom of speech is a non-issue in Australia. After all the lack of freedom of speech is only relevant in authoritarian nations with tyrant leaders like Kim Jong-un in North Korea, is it not? Well, sadly the answer to these questions posed is no!

In Australia over the past year we have seen many attacks on our freedom of speech.  Attacks that would not have been perpetrated if there was legal protection for ‘free speech’ in the form of a ‘Bill of Rights’.

The accusations against the late Bill Leak from the Aboriginal Land Council, who described this cartoon as “disgusting, discriminatory, and racist’ reveal the current state of free speech in this country. It reveals that the Aboriginal Land Council would prefer to use the old ‘blame the white man’ tactic, rather than address serious problems in their communities. It shows that showing a willingness to talk about contentious issues in our society, will make you a hated member of the community, simply because you didn’t choose to adhere to the political left’s secularist religion of political correctness, and instead you chose to talk about the issues at hand with candour and courage, rather than deceive people with politically correct fabrications and falsehoods.

Many people know the Bill Leak case well, given the coverage it received in all major newspapers, because of his high profile as a respected and eminent cartoonist of ‘The Australian’ newspaper. He was known as a cartoonist who was not afraid to take a stand on issues that were deemed not to be politically correct, or ‘hot-button’ issues, that quite frankly not many other people had the courage to talk about. The Australian Human Rights Commission investigated Bill Leak after his cartoon was published in August of 2016, and an Aboriginal woman who claimed she had been ‘humiliated’ made an official complaint. This cartoon published after the Don Dale youth detention scandal came to light. Albeit shocking and confronting, this cartoon was neither malicious nor racist.

What Leak’s cartoon did was raise serious concerns to the mainstream of Australia about the shocking reality of Aboriginal communities. This cartoon was likely intended to raise awareness, and fuel the winds of change to help our indigenous brothers and sisters of our great land, that we all love dearly. It is absurd that Leak, a gifted artist can face auditing from a government bureaucracy, and possible prosecution, for simply highlighting through his work, the unfortunate situation in some Northern Territory communities.

Over the years, Bill Leak’s cartoons have attempted to raise his concerns about society in a visual way, concerns that statistics were already proving. After all, ‘Facts don’t care about your feelings’, as conservative American political commentator Ben Shapiro once famously tweeted. First, according to the Australian Institute of Criminology, an Aboriginal youth between the ages of ten and seventeen are about twenty-four times more likely to be in detention than other Australians (ABS). This is both shocking and confronting. Second, it is known that fourteen percent of Aboriginal men between the ages of twenty and thirty-nine are incarcerated, this is fifty-two times the rate as compared to the rest of our community (ABS). With those two facts alone, it is hard to deny the relevance of Bill Leak’s cartoon, which alluded to Aboriginal youths being ‘trouble makers’, and a lack of fatherly leadership presence.

Further, the presence of the apparent alcoholic beverage in the hand of the Aboriginal father, also brings up the shocking issue of alcoholism within these communities. The statistics below show the depressing realities of high risk alcohol consumption for both Aboriginal, and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This just goes to show that Bill Leak wasn’t ‘perpetuating some racist stereotype’, but he was simply reporting on the sad truths and realities of the matter from the evidence that was in front of him. Bill Leak did not deserve to have his freedom of speech attacked in such a merciless, and meritless, fashion. ‘A’ if there was a ‘Bill of Right’s’ protecting his free speech this would not have happened, ‘B’ there should not be a law that is based on making something illegal if hurts someone’s feelings, as the law in general should not deal with feelings, but with absolute objectivity, and ‘C’ the Human Rights Commission should not be operating a parallel legal system, that is not answerable to common law.

5.1 CHRONIC RISKY/HIGH RISK ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aged 15 years and over—2008

(a) Based on the amount of alcohol (mls) consumed on an average drinking day.

Source: 2008 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey -ABS (Australian Bureau of Statistics).

The Human Rights commission should not be the arbitrator of what is right and wrong, but it should be your peers, in the form of a jury.  The Human Rights Commission is just a glorified ‘Kangaroo court’, and we need to replace the Human Rights Commission (Rhodes Scholar and former Prime Minister Tony Abbott also supports abolishing the Human Rights Commission), but our work would not be done there, it is also time to repeal Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act 1974 (Cth). These laws impede on the ability of our nation to have honest and frank discussions about stark problems in society. If people cannot freely talk about such issues, as Bill Leak tried to do, such things as race, class and religion will always divide us.

Thus, repealing Section 18C is the key to preserving and protecting our liberty as a country and as individuals. Australia is the only Western nation in the world without a Bill of Rights, and frankly, the government cannot be trusted to protect our liberty and fundamental rights. Thus, repealing Section 18C is not going to suffice, as it is time for Australia to adopt a Bill of Rights similar to the American and Canadian models. Presently Australian citizens have only five expressed rights in our constitution, and freedom of speech is not included in those five expressed rights. This is simply inadequate for a Western liberal democracy such as Australia.

The United States Bill of Rights was written by the ‘classical liberal’ James Madison in 1789, just after the American Revolution. Like what Madison wrote, we also need a Bill of Rights that promotes Western values, Australian values. This is much needed at a time when identity politics is rampant, and what it means to be an ‘Aussie’ is such a contentious issue.

I think that a Bill of Rights could hypothetically include such things as; “Freedom of speech”, “Freedom of association” and “The right to life”. The process to add rights to the list would be through a referendum like process, that would require a ‘double majority’, that being that a majority of states, and the majority of citizens would have to vote to add, and/or to take away those rights. The power would be with the people and the system would be ‘For the people, by the people’, and who in their right mind is going to vote to make their own freedom of speech illegal?  A Bill of Rights would add an extra layer of protection against government abuse of power, and that is something we need. Our liberties are constantly being stripped away from us under the assumption that it is of a ‘national security’ benefit, we now live in were the Federal police have unfretted access to our metadata, wouldn’t a ‘right to privacy’ have stopped such an intrusion? Or to use the more eloquent words of Senator David Leyonhjelm of the Liberal Democratic Party ‘having the cops manage metadata is like putting firemen in charge of choreographing the Bolshoi Ballet’.

These are the existing expressed rights that under the Australian constitution Act 1901;

  • freedom of Religion s.116
  • free interstate trade and commerce s.92
  • not be discriminated against on the basis of the state where you reside s.117
  • receive ‘just terms’ when property is acquired by the Commonwealth s.51 (xxi)
  • trial by jury for indictable Commonwealth offences s.80

A notable absence from the rights listed above is the “freedom of speech”, and other basic human rights like “freedom of association” and “the right to self-defence”. Therefore, it is time for Australians to ‘GetUp!’ and rally behind a campaign to introduce a Bill of Rights, in order to protect the longevity of freedom in this country, both now and into the future. We need a Bill of Rights to protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of all citizens, whereby everybody can speak their mind in a fair-dinkum Australian manner, and thoughts and opinions would have to compete in a market of thoughts and ideas, and then, hopefully meritocracy would be the winner. Without such a bold decision, the problems of today will fester and eventually become the wars of tomorrow.

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Jacob Watts

' Jacob Watts is The Unshackled Editor-at-Large and host of The Conservative File podcast. He is based in Geelong, Victoria where he conducts interviews and field reports.'