Flat White

Free speech first, then the right to know

21 August 2019

5:00 AM

21 August 2019

5:00 AM

As most Speccie readers would know, I stand unashamedly for free speech; even speech that might offend or insult. Speech is not only natural to human beings; it is, in fact, the defining characteristic of what it is to be a human being for speech is the expression of human reason. Human speech is definitive of our political natures, that we are naturally at home in the company of our fellows. In many instances, our language defines our borders.

At its grandest, human speech allows us to explain to our fellows our opinion about what is advantageous and just, even our opinions of the nature of God. That is why we can also say that any argument for free speech will axiomatically exclude any call to personal violence and any resort to irrational terms such as abusive or obscene swearing.

In November last year, the left-wing Guardian equated free speech with the right to know. Other media have since continued to follow suit with their own attempt to articulate a ‘right to know’. It is, however, important to recognise that media publishers have a pecuniary incentive to publish opinions which would make the asserted right to know subject to their criterion of who is worthy of knowing; namely the person who pays.

There cannot be, therefore, a ‘right to know’ in the same sense that there is a natural right to speak. Knowledge is derivative from common sense experiences but it is only through human reason speech that our common senses are made intelligible in speech.

The power of speech is natural to human beings even if we initially have to learn a particular language. It allows us to declare our opinions regarding all matters, but especially political matters. The natural right to free speech, therefore, is a political right; and it is precisely because free speech is essentially political that tyrannical regimes oppress it.

No sensible person would call Australia a tyranny – yet.  However, left-wing government of all political persuasions have taken to enacting laws that legalise the most vicious actions while suppressing under penalty even the most reasonable objections to those laws. Where it will end depends whether our freedom to speak freely is protected or suppressed.

Perhaps the right to free speech might not seem to matter when those same governments are gleefully killing the future generation while the Commonwealth is filling the void with foreigners. But there will come a time when neither you nor I will be able to complain about these excesses because governments will be responding to the demands of a different electorate.

It is not difficult to see that free speech is the most precious of political rights that exist. Every parliament in Australia grants immunity to every parliamentarian for every statement that parliamentarians make in the Parliament. Why, we must ask, should parliamentarians be permitted to further their own political objects, subject only to the leniency extended to them by their fellows, while citizens are restrained by the chilling effect of a defamation writ.

The natural right to free speech should be extended to every Australian by an amendment to the Constitution. With such a right, the onus of justifying any limit on the right would fall to those who would need to prove that the limit was necessary for the reasonable conduct of political life.

David Long is a retired solicitor, economist and PhD candidate at Griffith University School of Law.

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