Leading article Australia

Coalition and Cancel Culture

1 August 2020

9:00 AM

1 August 2020

9:00 AM

The High Court’s decision on whether or not to give leave to Peter Ridd to appeal his Federal Court loss may well come to be seen as one of the most critical decisions in our nation’s history. Hyperbole? Not at all. If a nation or indeed a civilisation ceases to uphold academic freedom as a fundamental cornerstone of its intellectual and cultural, not to mention legal, life, then it assigns itself and its citizenry to permanent vassal status, where the mandarins of the state dictate what is acceptable learning and what are permissible opinions.

That Australia, in the 21st century, should find itself so poised should be of deep concern to our political leaders. Of deep concern, but of no surprise. For it is the craven cowardice of our politicians that has helped to land us in this unhappy place.

The Left, of course, brush off Professor Ridd’s predicament as simply an employment contract issue, and according to the 2-1 majority in the Federal Court, which heard the original appeal to overturn Professor Ridd’s initial $1.2 million victory against James Cook University for unfair dismissal, they are right. But under this interpretation, as James Allan points out in his riveting but deeply disturbing column this week, a handful of bureaucrats and union officials now get the green light to impose their own restrictions on what would normally be ‘the full-blooded, vigorous, satirical exchange of (academic) ideas’.

Scott Morrison once shrugged off concerns about free speech as being of little interest to him because they did not ‘create one job’. Well, lack of free speech has already lost Peter Ridd his job and, if James Allan is correct, will inevitably lead to a deterioration in our global reputation as an academic powerhouse and will therefore cost us not only many future academic careers, but untold numbers of manufacturing and other jobs that automatically flow on from world-beating intellectual research and development.


At every opportunity, the Coalition has squibbed its commitment to free speech (and by extension, to freedom of academic expression and much else). After seven years, Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act  remains concreted firmly in place with no hope it will ever be removed, despite numerous promises that it must at the very least be overhauled. Following the death of cartoonist Bill Leak, the Turnbull government made a brief but unenthusiastic effort to ‘do something’ about 18C that of course amounted to doing nothing.

Shamefully, earlier this year, one of the supposedly most pro-free speech members of the government, Liberal Senator James Paterson, demonstrated just how far he and his party have fallen into the embrace of the woke Left by bragging on television about censuring mens-rights activist Bettina Arndt for a tweet. Yes, the full power of Senate disapproval was used to silence a private citizen for approvingly re-tweeting an official comment from a police officer about the vexed nature of domestic violence. So much for free speech, Senator.

The war on free speech has been prosecuted mercilessly (and successfully) by the Left for many years, despite Labor rarely being in government. The Coalition has, as they say, never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity to fight back.

Cancel culture is the latest pseudonym for totalitarianism and censorship and yet again the Coalition remains, for the most part, silent on this vile practice. Save for a few brave voices such as of Matt Canavan, Craig Kelly and Amanda Stoker, our leaders are in the main mute.

This week, Rebecca Weisser, Helen Dale and Kel Richards all explore different aspects of the folly of the COON cheese name-changing madness, as do Sarah Dudley and Ben Davis on this week’s superb cover.

Of course, there is always much amusement to be had with the ‘lefty lunacy’ of many of the targets of cancel culture. But behind the laughs is a serious agenda to replace the freedoms we enjoy, and our ancestors fought for, with some Stasi-like business/academia-led censorship and ‘dobbing in’ of those who hold the ‘wrong’ opinions as well as a gradual but constant erosion of our history and our colonial past. Wiping out a free past, of course, makes it so much easier to impose an autocratic present and socialist future.

One would like to believe that were John Howard still prime minister, he would have used events like the Ridd affair or the COON farce to point out that this mania for cancelling brand names, products, stadiums (remember the Margaret Court nonsense), statues, historic reputations, books, films and even lollies is beyond idiotic and, dare we say it, un-Australian. For Scott Morrison to continually fail to address this or any other aspect of the culture wars, particularly at a time when he is riding so high in the opinion polls and his words would carry weight, is a mistake that he, and more importantly we, will long live to regret.

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