Last night I had a dream replete with wigs, robes and gavels. As I recall, it went something like this:
Judge: A statement of claim lodged by Melissa Dinnison alleges that cartoonist Bill Leak violated Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act by propagating ‘hateful and derogatory material specifically relating to indigenous Australians’. For his part, Mr Leak has submitted a statement of defence stating that no defence shall be presented in this matter. This ‘no-defence defence’ is most unorthodox. So Mr Leak, may I ask you to clarify your position for the Court?
Leak: My position is quite straightforward. I refuse to accept the legitimacy of the statute under which I’ve been summoned to this place. And accordingly I shall be offering no defence.
Judge: Mr Leak, I warn you against wasting the Court’s time. You should be aware that such flippancy could incur serious repercussions.
Leak: There is nothing flippant about my rejection of this Court’s authority to adjudicate whether my cartoon is lawful or unlawful merely because someone took offence at its message. And thus I shall neither mount arguments in rebuttal nor make pleas in mitigation.
Judge: Mr Leak, you appear to be challenging the jurisdiction of this Court. Let me once again warn you of the grave consequences that may ensue from such impertinence.
Leak: Be that as it may, I do not seek a favourable ruling because such action would make me an active participant in these proceedings. And my participation would, by definition, entail implicit recognition of this Court’s moral authority.
Judge: Mr Leak, for the final time I shall warn you that slurs against the authority of this Court will bring about serious sanctions, up to and including imprisonment.
Leak: You misunderstand. Of course I accept the physical authority and coercive power wielded by this Court and its agents. It is obvious that the presiding judge can dispatch men with guns to seize my property and confine me to a cell. But nothing and no one can compel me to accept the legitimacy of this proceeding. And I categorically reject the assertion that any arm of government should be empowered to dictate what I can or cannot say on matters of political debate.
Judge: But the Australian Parliament provided for precisely such authority in 1995 by passing the Racial Hatred Act.
Leak: No doubt. But in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Martin Luther King asserted: ‘a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.’ And in that spirit I assert my inalienable right as a free Australian to express my political views without hindrance from the state. I thus shall not assist you in propagating the illusion that this Court is engaged in anything other than an act of standover thuggery. I refuse to uphold the façade of politically correct double-speak that threatens the foundations of individual liberty.
Judge: Mr Leak you are treading on very dangerous ground.
Leak: Be that as it may, I will not acquiesce to a ‘whingers veto’ that emboldens the racially paranoid and the ethnically petulant in Australia. These proceedings are a fraud to which I shall not be a party. I shall not dutifully play my assigned role in this farce.
Judge: Very well, Mr Leak. Seeing that you are intent on martyrdom, I shall oblige. I hereby find you in contempt of this Court. Is there anything you wish to say to the Court before sentence is passed?
Leak: You may think it appropriate to use physical force – or the ultimate threat thereof – to quash the voices uttering viewpoints of which you disapprove. But then so does a schoolyard bully. And in fact I prefer the bully because there is no pretence involved. No wigs, no gowns, no statute books; just pure brute intimidation at its most elemental. The bully is more honest than this Court because he does not demand implicit moral sanction from his victim. And …
Judge: I urge you to choose your words carefully, Mr Leak. You are on the cusp of making things much worse for yourself.
Leak: Perhaps. But I shall nonetheless present no argument in mitigation because none should be required to justify the free expression of political opinions by a free man in a free nation. In Lewis v Odgen, the High Court defined contempt as something that ‘interferes or tends to interfere with the course of justice.’ But no justice is being done here today. On this matter you sit as a Court of Injustice that offends against the very principles of freedom first adumbrated 800 years ago at a meadow in Runnymede.
Judge: So be it. Mr Leak, you have been found guilty of Contempt and by way of penalty I impose a $100,000 fine.
Leak: I would not pay $1, much less the sum you stipulate. If ordered to make an apology, I shall not do so. If instructed to refrain from drawing on certain topics I shall ignore that fatwa. I refuse to do anything – implicit or explicit – that bestows a gilding of righteousness on what in reality is nothing more than an exercise in unrighteousness. And to whatever extent my willing participation is required to lend the verisimilitude of legitimacy to this travesty, you’ll simply have to do without.
Judge: Mr Leak, your contumacious refusal to accept the authority of this Court forces my hand. I hereby sentence you to three months’ incarceration. Marshal, take Mr Leak into custody.
At this point I woke up in a cold sweat, my head filled with visions of Bill Leak being perp-walked out of court en route to a jail cell.
There’s little doubt my nightmare owes inspiration to the fact that I’ve recently been rereading Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. And perhaps it will take such a Rearden-esque display of defiance to turn the tide against those social justice warrior wannabe tyrants who seek to trample freedom of expression in Australia.
But then again, I won’t be the one in the dock so it’s easy for me to say.
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