The new exhibition at the aMBUSH gallery on the ANU campus is deeply offensive. It might well offend Christians, including arguably Australia's greatest tennis player. It is offensive to many Jews and to Rupert Murdoch.
But it's still not offensive enough.
The person it doesn't offend is the President of the People's Republic of China.
The organisers of the exhibition Don't Shoot the Messenger say the art works are "intentionally confrontational" - but the show is selective about whom it confronts. All the easy targets are there, but a satirical piece targeting Xi Jinping was censored.
In China, images of Winnie the Pooh displease the regime. The pudgy bear has become a satirical surrogate for President Xi.
So it is disappointing that the organisers of the exhibition on the ANU campus have bowed to social media pressure and removed a depiction of Winnie the Pooh overlaid on a Chinese banknote.
"We removed an artwork series from the exhibition after some feedback; the decision was based around unintended hurt caused to the Chinese community who felt the work was feeding into negative racial narratives," the gallery said.
It's hard to see any racist stereotype. Winnie the Pooh isn't a racial stereotype of Chinese people. The exhibition's "publicist" couldn't explain to me how any kind of racist stereotype was involved.
I draw a different conclusion: students, some of them perhaps Chinese and some of them white activists, waded in and echoed the concerns of the Chinese regime (which, you may remember, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination accused of turning the Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region "into something that resembled a massive internment camp shrouded in secrecy, a 'no rights zone'").
The exhibition's organisers could have defied the activists and the Chinese regime, but they chose not to. They could have stood up for free speech, but instead they bowed to the bullies. The gallery is above a bookshop. You might think that kind of proximity to books would convince them that free speech should be paramount. It didn't.
This matters. It isn't just an arcane row on a university campus in which student activists get over-excited. It's about free speech, and who stands up for it - and who doesn't.
It's true that the works by the artist Luke Cornish which have survived the censors are offensive - but in a robust democracy, we should live with offence.
Christians will be offended by an upside-down Christ on the cross - but they haven't tried to block the image (and they wouldn't succeed if they tried).
Rupert Murdoch might well be irritated. His portrait is painted on a hunting knife, with the caption: "By no means is the artist encouraging anybody to stab Rupert Murdoch in the head, merely posing the question 'If that was to happen' would the world be a better place?"
Imagine the outrage if such a question were asked of someone like Greta Thunberg? The cries for banning an image which might seem to justify murder would be loud.
Many Jews might take offense at another work in the exhibition. Alongside a picture of a thug (presumably Israeli) holding a man in a chokehold (presumably Palestinian) is the caption: "It would be my greatest sadness to see Zionists do to Palestinian Arabs much of what Nazis did to Jews."
The author of the quote was Jewish - Albert Einstein - but it was spoken more than 70 years ago in different times. Today, the comparison of Israel to the Nazis is recognised as an anti-Semitic meme.
The great tennis player Margaret Court might be offended by her portrait painted on a machete. She has upset gay rights activists by declaring homosexuality a sin, so in our age of the woke thought-police, she is deemed a justifiable target.
All these offensive images are approved by the censors, except the ones that offend the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party.
It is right that they survive. Offence is taken too easily. Free speech really does matter. If speech which offends against whatever the current fashionable narrative may be isn't allowed, we are all the worse off for the lack of debate.
But if it's OK to offend Christians, Jews, Rupert Murdoch and Margaret Court, it should be OK to offend the leader of the great despotism which is China.
Offence? Live with it. Better vigorous, edgy debate than the silencing of the critics that we see in China.
- Steve Evans is a Canberra Times reporter.