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Freedom of speech

February 22, 2013

I’d like to put in my own take on Human Rights Commissioner Ms Broderick and her desiccated view of human rights and freedom of speech. This is from her opening statement at the ABC:

We are a vehicle for those people who are marginalised who ordinarily would never have a voice in this country to step up and have their say about things.

What training do these people have? What is the basis for one’s appointment? What previus learning, scholarship, knowledge and study are required to sit in such exalted positions? Most importantly, has she studied the great defenders of freedom in the past: Spinoza, Voltaire, Mill. Listening to her shallow maunderings was an insult to our intellectual history and to the history of free thought and free speech.

I have news for Ms Broderick. Freedom of speech is not about protecting the “marginalised”, it is about protecting everyone. If her example is the best she can do – focusing on the ability of the elderly to find a voice – well that must take some bravery. Who knew that the elderly were not permitted to speak up and say what they pleased. Good to know that she is so on the job in handling this no doubt very difficult problem. There must be a mountain of opposition to their efforts.

But now that the problem of free speech amongst the elderly has been resolved, how about dealing with some other issues, such as, perhaps, the attempts by the present government to limit free expression through the media. Or about some of the vile and repulsive statements eminating from some of our new Australian minorities in reference to other Australian minorities. Or defending the ability of journalists to make observations about the manner in which government grants are distributed to those who might not have been the actual intended recipients as originally conceived.

That, I fear, would be a bit trickier. It would actually require someone to have a philosophical position about freedom of speech and not some ambition to ensure that the marginalised be encouraged and enabled.

But since she got into this and did give us this one example of the elderly, why does she not give us others? Who are these marginalised who are unable to speak out? What is it they wish to say that cannot be said? Why does the HRC not publish these things on their behalf so that we can all see the kinds of statements we are being deprived of. Let’s get these suppressed statements on the record, the ones it is now impossible for these people to make.

She mentioned some European Senator who had been given a visa and allowed to speak. Well, whoever it is must be saying some very shocking things, but if she is so keen to ensure that such speech is given an airing – which is what freedom of speech is about – then why does the HRC not publish this person’s views and put them up on the HRC website. Do it for everyone and not just this Senator. Identify all of those suppressed views and publish them yourself. Then what revenge we would have on the people who are trying to stop their statements from being made because now rather than stopping them, they will have caused those views to have a public platform. That would fix them.

Instead, I fear, the aim is merely to stop non-politically-correct statements from entering public debate. I may be wrong about this, but that is often how it looks. There is the usual leftist position on everything and those who makes a statements outside those permitted bounds are likely to have their right to free speech cut out from under them.

Free speech is about open debate about every single political issue. I agree that personal statements, individual to individual, are dangerous and unacceptable with a need to have limits on such personal remarks made merely to wound someone. But that is not what we are talking about. We are here talking about issues that might well be part of our Parliamentary debates being open to as free a discussion as it is possible to have. That is what freedom of speech means and absolutely nothing else will do.

Update: Michael Ledeen also discusses free speech in a post titled, Shut up or I’ll kill you. Interesting article of which this is a representative sample:

Free societies are so much more productive and creative than the others in large part because of open debate, just as scientific discovery demands testing all manner of hypotheses. Once you lose the habits of the free mind, it extends to all areas of endeavor. Stifling free speech crushes creativity in all areas of life. And once the censors get their teeth into us, there’s no stopping them.

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