As a founding member of the United Nations, Australia played a pivotal role in the negotiation of the UN Charter. In 1948, Australia didn’t (and, still doesn’t) have an explicit constitutional right to freedom of speech, yet it was one of only eight nations involved in drafting the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. It was the first time countries had agreed on a comprehensive statement outlining inalienable human rights.
Chastened by the second world war which exposed forced labour and the unimaginable state brutality practiced under socialist dictatorships of the left and right, the Charter’s utopian architects sought to enshrine, as an obligation, the pursuit of human freedom, dignity and worth.
This, they outlined in Article 19 of the Declaration which states, ‘Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’.
Seventy years on and Australia’s commitment to that Declaration hardly rates when compared to the reverence paid to the Paris climate agreement.
Take footballer Israel Folau, a devout Christian, who posted an Easter-time Instagram message saying, ‘Warning: Drunks, Homosexuals, Adulterers, Liars, Fornicators, Thieves, Atheists, Idolaters. Hell awaits you. Repent. Only Jesus Saves’. He faces the sack from Rugby Australia for communicating these words.
Or, take the white males ‘who look like they vote Liberal’, attending Melbourne University. In a bid to ‘dismantle privilege’, the student union deemed them to be unsuitable to participate in discussion during classes. A student told the Australian, he was not surprised. ‘The tutors and lecturers have a very heavy left-wing bias and generally sort of belittle any other opinion’. So much for the right to express opinions.
Article 19 didn’t help Queensland University of Technology students, either. They were ejected from an unmarked, indigenous, computer room. The Human Rights Commission brought a law suit against them under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, for writing, ‘QUT stopping segregation with segregation’. ‘I wonder where the white supremacist lab is?’ Officialdom hung them out to dry. Nor did the Declaration save Bettina Arndt’s ‘Fake rape crisis’ university speaking tour. She was subjected to violent protests aimed at shutting down her lectures. Her organisers had to pay for her physical protection.
Leading academic, Glyn Davis, labels limitations on free speech at universities an exaggerated, ‘confected calamity’ that is ideologically driven. He claims incidents are ‘exceedingly rare’. A government-commissioned review conducted by former High Court chief justice, Robert French, agrees. His Honour concludes ‘there is no evidence of a systemic free speech crisis on Australian campuses’. One wonders what it would take to convince them?
Not apparently, the fruitless attempts to establish the Bjorn Lomborg Australian Consensus Centre. It failed because the Centre challenged climate change orthodoxy. Or, the rejection by a number of universities of the proposed Ramsay Centre for Western Civilisation, because ‘Western civilisation is something which is impossible to defend in a modern university’.
Chris di Pasquale, a Monash University activist student, sees nothing wrong with this. His right to express opinions appears to mean little to him. Indeed, he views free speech as ‘a weapon in the Right’s arsenal: by invoking free speech, they simultaneously bludgeon an “intolerant” Left who dare disagree with them. Further, by turning it into a debate on whether they are “allowed” to speak at all, the Right shield themselves from any criticism of the toxicity of their ideas’. George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth would applaud. Free speech is oppressive, censorship is liberating.
This constant and insidious erosion of our liberties is not exaggerated or, a ‘confected calamity’ which is ideologically driven. The lexicon of words and phrases that are off-limits gets thicker by the day. Use of an inadvertent word or phrase regularly triggers ‘micro-aggressions’ which some are quick to interpret as a kind of violence. Surely, a society where everyone must think twice before speaking up lest they are accused of insensitivity, hate, or worse, is antipathetical to the very essence of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights?
Indeed, Australia’s introduction in 1995 of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, was a premeditated attack on our freedom to express an opinion. It specifically recognises that words alone can harm. It gives the state authority to take an interest in perceived bigotry, which, through the Human Rights Commission, has meant zealously applying the law even against those expressing evidence-based truths. It means minorities are protected not only from so-called ‘hate speech’, but often from valid criticism.
A sinister HRC exploited this section to persecute the great cartoonist Bill Leak, even soliciting complaints on social media to justify their case that his cartoon was ‘racist’. Their witch-hunt collapsed, but the stress contributed to Leak’s fatal heart attack. He was too well aware that ‘Political correctness is a poison that attacks the sense of humour. As the senses of humour of people suffering from PC, atrophy, their sensitivity to criticism becomes more and more acute until they get to the stage where everything offends them’.
This is our world. As we stand quietly by, the enemies of freedom are at work, forever searching for new ways to silence ‘unauthorised’ opinion. But who will challenge these forces of darkness? Who will reverse this growing intolerance for ‘unauthorised’ ideas. Author Robert Fanney’s reminds us, ‘Complacency is ever the enabler of darkest deeds’.
Those Australians who, in 1948, collaborated in the drafting of Article 19, would never have thought future generations would place such little store in their priceless gift. With the horrors of totalitarianism fresh in their minds, not in their wildest dreams could they have imagined that, within 70 years, such a legacy would be so easily devalued and the tyrannical forces that inspired their work, so foolishly embraced. Tragically, they were wrong.
Subscribe to The Spectator Australia today for a quality of argument not found in any other publication. Subscribe – Try a month free