Free speech, but only for Abbott elite

I am so confused by this federal government, its henchcommissioners and the media commentators who egg them on.

For the past few weeks, I’ve heard them – all of them – banging on about needing to change section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Apparently that bit in particular is very anti-free speech and here’s why the government thinks so.

Section 18C is what is also known as the Bolt law. Or at least the law that commentator Andrew Bolt fell foul of when, in 2011, he was found to have been in breach of that section, which makes it unlawful to publish material that offends or insults a person because "of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the person or of some or all of the people in the group".

The commitment that this government has to free speech was made very clear by George Brandis when he told the Senate two weeks ago: "People do have a right to be bigots, you know . . . in a free country people do have rights to say things that other people find offensive or insulting or bigoted."

And here we are, just a month or so into this detailed discussion of the tremendous importance of free speech, when we discover that the government is only interested in free speech when its members, the pale, entitled ones, are those doing the speaking.


On Sunday, News Ltd papers published a story by Samantha Maiden which said public servants in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet would not be permitted to make political criticism of the Abbott government on social media. Colleagues who know others are making criticisms would be encouraged to betray their workmates; and may even be punished for not doing so.

So, it’s not just the professional social media accounts which need to tug the forelock but private ones as well. If public servants are found to have breached the code of conduct, they could find themselves without a job.

Of course, let the errant colleague know you know first. Just courtesy, right? Then hand them cuffed and bound because it turns out to be the policy that we must monitor and spy on those we work with.

So, perfectly okay to hear this: Yid. Boong. Chink. Nigger. All perfectly ok in Abbott-world. (Apologies if I’ve left anyone out of this list of insults. Just thought I'd start with my own tribe and then think of the two most common insults I hear hurled on the streets and one I’ve borrowed from the US.)

But it’s not okay to say that Abbott and his government have betrayed the Australian people from the day they were elected (and if you want to keep track of all the broken promises, I’m sending you again to Sally McManus’ Tracking Abbott’s Wreckage list – it gets longer every day).

Fine to abuse on the basis of race but not critique on the basis of incompetence, ineptitude and inadequacy.

So please do not mention that the government has abandoned so many ordinary Australians in its seven months in office. It has caused the loss of thousands of Australian jobs; supervised a regime which allowed the murder of an innocent asylum seeker; appointed a Commission of Audit but refused to let anyone see that report in the run-up to the West Australian Senate election re-run (a delightful swing against both major parties, perhaps the ALP will eventually come to its senses); pathetically caved in to junk food lobbyist pressure by hiding important nutritional information from Australians; and appointed a host of ideologues to crucial posts which will affect the national outcome.

 It would be very difficult for the government to argue with the truth of any of these claims (although, maybe, it thinks its chosen men aren’t ideologues) but if public servants made any of those criticisms on social media, then they would be in fear of losing their jobs. (Isn’t it the right of citizens to be able to criticise their government? This new rule is un-Australian. Whatever that means.)

I was delighted to read that our new freedom commissioner, Tim Wilson, was approached to comment. Surely, I thought, surely this libertarian, this free speech warrior, would leap to the defence of our gentle, analytical and astute public servants.

Sadly, no lords-a-leaping. Wilson – or Lando Calrissian, as I prefer to think of him – has backed the reforms. Australian Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs must be whirling in her chair.

I reckon there will be a huge influx of fake social media accounts and false accusations – a perfect way to foster huge community discontent and mistrust.

Because it’s free speech for all, if you are a member of the Abbott elite.

But none for those impressive people who actually do the job of keeping our country running.

If you are looking for a freedom commissioner to actually protect your free speech, don’t try the one foisted on us by the Abbott elite. 

Twitter @jennaprice or email