The left more than evidently know how to use the power of the state to achieve their political objectives. The Human Rights Commission’s thought policing of students at the Queensland University of Technology has been ruinous for those concerned. Bill Leak’s untimely death by heart attack came just several months after the ‘incredible stress’ of being hauled before the agency and forced to defend himself.
Neither instances were particularly worthy of the attention of the Commission in the eyes of fair-minded people but that’s entirely beside the point. The process is the punishment. Mere allegation is typically sufficient to become a target of investigation and the cost of defending an action is beyond the resources of normal people. Even if you win, you lose.
Needless to say, this tends to have a chilling effect on political conversation within the community that the left appear to welcome. Deploying administrative bodies to silence your political opponents seems to align with the win at any cost philosophy of progressives, even where it means eroding trust within society.
Ironically, liberals fail to realise that the power of the state could just as easily be deployed to defend individual liberty and freedom of speech. Adherence to doctrinal purity renders liberal and libertarians impotent when championing the interests of ordinary Australians.
To be sure, liberals may make the case for the withdrawal of organisations like the Human Rights Commission from the public sphere but they remain determinedly agnostic on private sector harassment. “Freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences” is the facile excuse offered.
With friends like that, who need enemies.
A more pragmatic view would be that the freedom of Australians to engage in political discussion is an unalloyed good that should be protected from interference. Australia’s recent experience shows that on their own individuals are powerless to counter the bullying and harassment of the hard left. If one really believes ideas are paramount, why shouldn’t we protect freedom of thought and expression?
Taking a lead from the left, a state-based solution readily comes to mind. A Freedom of Speech Commission could be deployed to defend the freedom of speech of the Australian people. If a left-wing extremist seeks to harass an individual because of who they are and what they believe then they could be made to run the gauntlet of Commission investigation and publicly shamed in the process.
If the Human Rights Commission could be abolished along the way, then no doubt that would also be of assistance.
There was a time in Australia where people could be relied upon to live and let live. Fundamentally this rested on the willingness of people to tolerate opposing points of view. The hard left are no longer willing to permit differences of opinion. Every aspect of public and personal views are policed and invaded. For ordinary Australians, the situation is intolerable and has led to a withdrawal from public life.
Back in the day, the old refrain ‘it’s a free country’ would intelligently be loosed off against interfering busy bodies and their unwelcome attentions. It’s telling that no one says that these days and speaks to a much-diminished public and private sphere.
People have a right to be left alone and have their own opinions. This used to be the default state of Australian public life. It’s a sign of the damage the left have inflicted on Australia’s civic culture that this in no longer the case.
Government intervention to correct the situation is very much a second-best approach, yet it seems like the only option. In any case, putting the shoe on the other foot for a bit would be a welcome relief for all of us.
Burchell Wilson is a post-graduate economics scholar at Johns Hopkins University.
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