This is the text of my speech delivered on behalf of The Unshackled to the Free Speech Rally hosted by the Australian Freedom of Speech Movement at the State Library of Victoria on Saturday 24th February 2018.
Thankyou to the Australian Freedom of Speech Movement for organising this rally and inviting me to speak. It’s not an easy feat to organise a public event so I would like to thank Magnus and Nathaniel for putting on such important event in what can be a hostile Melbourne environment.
We are approaching a particularly disturbing time for free speech in Australia. At a time when we need open and honest debate about so many issues affecting the future of Australia. Debate is being censored both by governments and those who hold the power to facilitate speech.
You are probably all bored of hearing about the effects 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. It is the law against free speech which has had most media attention from the Andrew Bolt case, the QUT students and the persecution of Bill Leak to his death. But this law is the perfect demonstration of how we are not able discuss issues relation to Indigenous Australians freely and openly without someone running the overreaching human rights commission.
However, Australia is full of laws against free speech. One that you may have not heard of his Section 474.17 of the Federal Criminal Code. Originally intended to cover phone communications it has now become used to prosecute people who make mean comments or troll others on Facebook. Yes some of the language used in Facebook discussions is off but is this an appropriate use of police time to monitor Facebook discussions? If I engage in a heated online discussion does it really require a visit from a swat team because somebody was offended?
We are holding this rally in the state of Victoria where we have another law against free speech the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act which in effect is a blasphemy law. We saw it in action this year with the trial of Bendigo three as they were known. They were prosecuted and found guilty for a conducting a mock beheading when they were protesting a mosque in Bendigo. They were taking a stand against beheadings saying they did not want them here, what is wrong with that? So in this state we are prevented from discussing issues relating to Islam or immigration, especially doing it in colourful way.
We also saw during the Marriage Law Postal Survey emergency vilification laws passed to prevent so called hate speech during the campaign. Now there is push to have these laws made permanent when we were told during the vote that we shouldn’t worry about issues like free speech and religious freedom.
Now it may be argued that hardly anyone is prosecuted for violating these laws or that frivolous complaints are thrown out. But as with other aspects of lawfare the process is the punishment and the stress of being publicly labelled a racist or bigot carries its own hardship. The QUT students were found not guilty, but their lives were forever altered and not to mention the strain on their mental well being
Nobody likes hate speech, but the problem with having laws against hate speech they are subjective. As the above cases demonstrate they allow the person who is most easily offended the full recourse of law to silence somebody who most of the time is making a legitimate point. The definition of hate speech is constantly expanding, it could be your speech next.
Many have also been concerned about censorship by corporations, mainly social media companies. Of course private companies are free to regulate the speech that is on their platform but it is fair to assume the our governments presumptions against free speech help influence a culture and society against free speech.
If our governments and political parties believe that certain topics are off limits, then of course corporations and social media companies will ban them from being discussed. Should a person really have their communication tools taken away or be fired from their job for airing an unpopular opinion?
Let’s us hope today’s rally is just the beginning, we can write all the articles we want but it is people on the ground who governments fear. Until they see the masses demanding their free speech back they are going to continue to trample on what should be one of the most important freedoms in the world. Maintain your passion and most of all don’t stay or feel silenced.