09 October, 2014

Some are freer than others

Was it really just a little over six months ago that our Attorney-General George Brandis stood up in the senate and declared that people have the right to be bigots?

As stupidly glib as his comment was, he was right. In a free society, people should have the right to be bigots if that’s the way they want to be. And the rest of us should be able to call them out for the bigots they are at every opportunity. It’s one thing to recognise the right to bigotry, it’s another thing entirely for the government to be facilitating bigotry. When Senator Brandis made that comment in March, he was defending the government’s plan to repeal section 18C of the racial discrimination act. By an astounding coincidence, this was the law that Andrew Bolt was successfully taken to court under in 2011. In the election campaign and early months of the new government, repealing this law was a priority for the coalition because freedom of speech trumps hurt feelings. Okay then.

Then in August, the prime minister humiliated his attorney-general by scrapping the repeal. The excuse for this surprise was that “When it comes to counter-terrorism, everyone needs to be part of Team Australia.” If you have any idea what that’s supposed to mean, please let me know in the comments.

Mr Abbott also said that repealing the law had become a complication in relations with the Muslim community – which would be fine if they didn’t then turn around and pander to the “ban the burqa” (yes, I know they probably really mean niqabs, but most of them don’t know that) mob. The issue was first inflamed by Palmer United Senator Jacqui Lambie. Rather than dismiss her comments as a rookie mistake though, the following week, the prime minister’s chief of staff and the speaker of the house exercised power above that of the prime minister by having people in face coverings sit apart from the rest of people in Parliament’s public galleries. Now for sure, it could have been any face covering at all and if you believe that isn’t discriminatory, you probably think it’s fair that rich people are forbidden from sleeping on park benches just as much as the poor. Even Andrew Bolt thought it was unhelpful.

Now there are moves to make it harder for so-called “hate preachers” to come to Australia. I’m not entirely against this. I just wonder what happened to the right to be a bigot. Tony Abbott even apologised to Alan Jones (making you wonder who actually runs the country) for not acting sooner to impede the “objectionable.” So we’ve gone from defending the right to be a bigot, to going out of our way to stop some fringe dwellers being merely objectionable.

And this morning during a radio interview, Mr Abbott brought it full circle by saying,
Certainly if poor old Andrew Bolt is...
Okay, wait, I have to stop this here for a moment. “Poor old Andrew Bolt”‽ Yes Tony, poor old Andrew Bolt is the real victim here, what with his loss of reputation and livelihood. Oh, hang on, that never happened. In fact, since being taken to court and receiving the penalty of having to apologise, he has been given his own television show, so poor old Andrew Bolt has really suffered for his free speech.

Sorry, where were we?
Certainly if poor old Andrew Bolt is prosecuted for a mild, relatively mild piece,
No, sorry, I’m going to have to interrupt again. I think “relatively mild,” might be in the eye of the beholder here and we should also remember that the beholder wants to consider himself the prime minister for indigenous affairs. So it’s informative to know which side Mr Abbott comes down on in a disagreement between those he claims to represent and one of his ideological mentors.

Anyway, let’s try this again…
Certainly if poor old Andrew Bolt is prosecuted for a mild, relatively mild piece, I know it was different law, it was Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, but if we are looking for objectionable speech, the kind of stuff which we're hearing from Hizb ut-Tahrir is infinitely more objectionable than anything you'd ever hear from Andrew Bolt.
Picture taken from the
I’m Voting Liberal Facebook page.
Do you feel stupid yet?

I see. So there are now degrees of bigotry that we should defend? Reasonable people have argued all along that freedom of speech is no excuse for being an arsehole or a shield from the consequences of exercising that right. Having gone in to bat for the likes of Andrew Bolt though, the government has lost the ability to use that perfectly valid argument.

In times of alleged terrorist threat, we often hear a lot about sending messages, and the government has sent one over the last six months, but they’re probably not aware they’ve sent it.

To cut a long story short,
If you’re white, male, rich and support our politics, and you do something illegal, we’ll change the law to protect you,
If you’re brown, Muslim, female, or any combination of them, and you do something that’s not illegal, we’ll change the law to stop you.


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