Leading article Australia

From Folau to 18C

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

29 June 2019

9:00 AM

‘Folau has criticised not only those who are homosexual, but drunkards, thieves, atheists, fornicators, adulterers and so on. So he’s cast a very wide net about those who will go to hell. Now most of us could dismiss that as fanciful or something we don’t believe in, but it is a view he seems to hold in good faith. My own view is that he should be entitled to put his view. I think that it’s really foolish and disproportionate to prevent him from preaching something he believes quite deeply.’

Many of our readers would agree with the thrust of these sentiments. Yet to not only our surprise but also our delight, the quote comes from – of all people – former Human Rights Commission President Gillian Triggs.

The debate about Israel Folau, religious beliefs, the right to express them, the rights of those who take offence and the steps that corporations, the law or the media take to silence unbridled free speech is a debate that is long overdue. It is a conversation this nation has been crying out for for years. And for once, it looks like a genuine debate of ideas may take place, rather than simply two tribes, left and right, slugging it out in yet another pre-scripted battle of the ‘culture wars’.

Another surprising contribution to the debate came from self-described ‘proud Labor lefty’ and strong supporter of same-sex marriage, the MP for Whitlam on the NSW south coast, Stephen Jones: ‘We can’t say on the one hand, “We support multiculturalism and all that comes with it”, and then be offended when the expression of that multiculturalism disagrees with some of our deeply held views.’ He added, with a nod to Voltaire, ‘I fundamentally disagree with what [Folau] has got to say but I don’t agree with attempts to shut people down who are saying things that other people might find offensive.’.

So far so good. A debate that genuinely crosses the political divide. In this week’s issue, Morgan Begg from the Institute of Public Affairs – who have long been one of Australia’s leading champions in the fight to promote and restore our prized and disappearing freedoms – looks at the Folau issue from the vexed problem of the promised ‘religious freedom legislation’, warning new laws could do more harm than good. Rebecca Weisser, meanwhile, unveils the burqa’d elephant in the room – Islam’s hostile attitude to homosexuality. Indeed, whereas Folau may be pondering what happens to practising homosexuals in the afterlife, many Muslim nations are only too keen to bloodily hasten the process of discovery. Naturally, Australia’s most feted Muslim celebrities have remained tight-lipped on Islam’s overt and aggressive homophobia.

Interestingly, Ms Triggs accurately recognises, as this magazine has pointed out, that this debate sits squarely at the centre of the much broader argument about Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. This is because ultimately in a truly free society it boils down to a choice between religious freedom/free speech on the one hand and ‘being discriminated against’ on the other – with the test for such discrimination in many instances being an aggrieved individual simply feeling ‘offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated’.

And suddenly we find ourselves on the other side of a deep and wide chasm from Ms Triggs, who advocates for more legislation, such as 18C being extended to include sexual orientation or religious beliefs, or worse, some new Australian Charter of Human Rights designed to prescribe human ‘attributes’ to be protected from criticism. Ultimately, this ‘cure’ would be far worse than the ‘disease’, opening the floodgates to ‘Islamophobia’ blasphemy laws, more onerous ‘transphobia’ and ‘homophobia’ litigation and so on.

We believe over-zealous anti-discrimination legislation is at the root of the problem, not the solution to it. Drawing up vague new religious freedom laws is a nonsense so long as 18C and a legal culture of protecting special ‘attributes’ from ‘discrimination’ persists. Scrap 18C in its entirety, and replace it with tougher legislation that focuses only on prohibiting speaking on a public platform in a manner likely to incite violence. Do that, and free speech and religious freedoms will largely take care of themselves.

Madness emergency

Sydney Lord Mayor Clover Moore’s ‘Climate Emergency’ is idiotic enough, given the fact that nothing Sydney Council ever does will have any impact whatsoever on the temperature of the planet. But the madness of her campaign is heightened when you consider that Sydney streets are now cluttered with the homeless, shivering in one of our coldest winters. Forget about global warming, Clover, and start tackling the homeless emergency.

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