Yesterday, the Gillard Government announced not only the creation of a new media censorship and licensing scheme, but the start of “government sanctioned journalism”.

We are on the verge of having the Federal Government dictating what we can and cannot read, and what we can and cannot think.

The brainchild of Senator Stephen Conroy,  the man who said he had the power to make telecom bosses wear red underpants on their head, tried to ban the Bolt Report from being aired, said that the Federal Government should be “going to war” against News Limited, and  wanted to censor the internet, this proposal is an unprecedented and historic attack on freedom of speech.

Outside of wartime, no Australian Government has ever come even close to considering restrictions of this magnitude. Together with upcoming changes to our “anti-discrimination laws”, if passed, they represent an end to freedom of speech as we know it.

Freedom of speech is on life support. We can stop this. But we must act fast. We need to take action TODAY.

There are three main parts to this proposal. Each of them is bad on its own, but together, they spell disaster.

First: It sets up a licensing scheme, granting basic journalistic rights and protections only to those who sign up to a “regulated press standards body”. Those who sign up will be rewarded by the government, through things such as “exemptions from privacy legislation”. Those who don’t will lose these same protections “vital to the capacity of journalists to do their job.

Second: These bodies will be overseen by a powerful taxpayer-funded super-regulator: the Orwellian “Public Interest Media Advocate”. Whose interest do you think this government-appointed super-regulator will really be advocating? (hint: it won’t be the publics).

Third: A new “public interest” test will be applied for media ownership – and it’s pretty clear: “public interest test” means “political interest test and will be used by the government “to punish outlets they don’t like.” This is a desire to punish outlets they don’t like, and prevent freedom-oriented media from flourishing.

But that’s not all.

In a further attack on democracy, Senator Conroy will be presenting the Bill to Parliament on Thursday – and is demanding it be passed next week. That’s right: no time for scrutiny, no time for debate, no time for MP’s to even thoroughly read or understand the bill. Sound familiar?

Former Press Council Head Professor Flint compared this to “Soviet regimes” saying “”It is dangerous … it will give the government a power it should never have, the power to determine the content of the press.”  News Limited Chief Executive Kim Williams said “This government will go down in history as the first Australian government outside of wartime to attack freedom of speech by seeking to introduce a regime which effectively institutes government sanctioned journalism” and that it “removes the capacity of journalists to do their job – it is a not-too-sophisticated endeavour to gag the media:” Even traditionally pro-Government Fairfax CEO Grey Hywood said ” We can’t see the purpose of further regulation of news publications.”

A few people have written to me saying “well, at least it’s not as bad as the Finkelstein Report recommended – at least this isn’t going to censor every blogger, user of social media etc”. DO NOT fall into this trap! This is a DELIBERATE strategy by the government: announce something so utterly outrageous, so draconian (like the Finkelstein report), then, when the actual legislation is released they are praised for “compromising”. They have done it before, and we can’t let them get away with it again. Don’t let them con us twice.

There is a chance we can stop this. The bill is not yet guaranteed passage through parliament. They do not have the votes – yet. If enough Australians contact their MP’s and the cross-benchers, we WILL prevail.  

This website let’s you contact not just your MP, not just your senator, but also all the cross benchers so you can DEMAND they oppose this outrageous proposal.

Please, from the bottom of my heart I beg you: take action now – before it is too late.

I can not help but think about the legacy of the brave men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for us. They paid for our freedom in blood. Did they make the ultimate sacrifice to have a country where the government dictates what we can and can not read or think? Is this what they really bled for? Is this why they fought and died?

Freedom is not just a buzzword. It is not an empty slogan. It isn’t a word to be thrown around without meaning. It is something at the core of what we stand for – or used to.

Freedom was the reason we were so proud to call ourselves Australians. Freedom was the reason my grandparents fled the oppression of Soviet Union to move here. Freedom was who we were.

Don’t let them take it away from us.

Conroy Tries To Ban The Bolt Report, Other Critical News Shows

The Federal Government is becoming bolder and bolder in it’s concerted attack on freedom of speech in Australia through trying to censor any dissenting views.

The Australian has reported the Federal Communications Minister Stephen Conroy – the man who has previously said that he had the power to make telco bosses wear red underpants on their head if he wanted to, and also that the Federal Government should be “going to war” against News Limited – has tried to change legislation to ban the Bolt Report, and other similar shows such as Meet The Press, from being aired.

That’s right, he actually wanted to ban them:

CABINET ministers have canvassed a startling intervention in news and current affairs to prevent television networks from striking partnerships with other media companies in a sign of last-minute changes to reforms due within weeks.

Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is understood to have put the proposals to Julia Gillard on Monday night in an attempt to stop the Ten Network from working with News Limited to produce a Sunday current affairs program.

Of course, this proposal wouldn’t have applied to the staunchly left-of centre ABC:

Tthe high-level focus on the program appeared to ignore similar deals at the ABC in which Four Corners aired reports by journalists from Fairfax newspapers…

It seems that the proposal currently wasn’t approved, but what state of an affairs it is where the Federal Communications Minister in an allegedly free country like Australia, with the full support of parties like the Australian greens,  can actively call for the government to ban contrary voices.

The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

As we previously reported, last Thursday The Senate Legal and Constitutional Senate Legislation Committee handed down its report on  proposed changes to Federal Anti-discrimination legislation.

Here’s what it contained:

The Good

The Committee recommended that Section 19 (2)(b) of the proposed bill – which made it unlawful to ‘offend’ or ‘insult’ someone – be removed. This was the most obvious attack on free speech which everyone focussed upon. If enacted, it would have made comedians outlaws, and led to an avalanche of lawsuits for every petty insult imaginable. As such, this is simple common sense.

The Bad

Overall, the majority report continues to support a bill which represents an unnecessary and unwarranted intrusion by the government into regulating our lives, with a significant expansion in the field of personal interactions that shall now be governed by law. For this reason alone the bill ought be rejected in its entirety.

More worryingly, however, is that it continues to recommend two fundamentally problematic provisions. Firstly, the provision that if a prima face case is made, you are guilty until proven innocent remains. This is an outrageous attack on a fundamental cornerstone of sound jurisprudence and is simply indefensible. But it gets even worse. Even if you’ve been able to prove you were totally innocent – you’ll still have to pay potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. That’s right, you could be bankrupted even if it was proven you did nothing wrong. While normally if a vexatious litigant sues you without merit, you’d be able to recoup your costs once you win your  case, it seems the rule of law (and common sense!) doesn’t apply here.

Other problems with the bill include coverage of voluntary and unpaid work, and preventing employers from discrimination

The Ugly

The most shocking attack on our liberties – not seen in the original report – is the gross attack on religious liberties and the separation of church and state, with the Committee recommending that the Draft Bill be amended to remove exemptions protecting religious organisations from prosecution over their choices in the provision of services.

By removing this provision, the Federal Government effectively will have the power to force religious organisations to violate their conscience and force them to provide services to people against even if it violates fundamental tenants of their faith. This is quite an extraordinary attack on religious liberty in Australia and goes significantly beyond what is current Federal legislation.

Freedom of religion and the separation of Church and state are fundamental to Australian society, and for the Federal Government to dictate exactly to who a Church must provide services violates every tenant of this principle.

For all these reasons, please use our form to contact your MP and DEMAND that the bill be opposed in its entirety.

Update: Click here for some additional thoughts from Simon Brehney, Director of the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs.

Did We Just Get Conned?

The Senate Legal and Constitutional Senate Legislation Committee yesterday handed down their report on proposed changes to anti-discrimination legislation that would make it illegal to offend someone and reverse the balance of proof to make you guilty unless proven innocent.

After a lengthy campaign, led primarily by the staunch freedom fighters at the Institute of Public Affairs (If you havn’t joined already, they are presently running a promotion for new members), some of worst excesses of this bill will likely be removed and the Coalition presented a dissenting report calling for it to be scrapped entirely.

It is also worth noting that the Committee received close to three and a half thousand submissions regarding the bill. Of these, the overwhelming majority opposed the bill: close to 3000 submissions were in opposition, while less than 200 were in support. I would also like to thank the over 500 of our members who contacted their Member of Parliament outside of the committee process to demand they oppose this bill.

It is clear that the Australian people overwhelmingly oppose this bill, and the government has responded by removing one of the most publicised features.

But it’s too early to celebrate: the majority report remains a significant attack on freedom. In fact, in some ways the proposed changes make the bill even worse!

Make no mistake: This is a deliberate strategy on the part of the anti-free speech authoritarians.

While everyone is focussing on congratulating them on the “concession” they made, the really nasty bits sneak in. So they get the long-term outcome they want, while looking like they ‘compromised’.

In fact, I’m starting to think that this was a deliberate ploy by the government. So egregious and stupid was the plan to make offending someone illegal, that surely they could never have believed it would have passed. So, it was inserted as a lightning rod to divert attention to the real intention of the bill.

We can’t let them get away with it. If you have not done so already, please contact your MP using our form and DEMAND it be rejected in its entirety.

A full analysis of the Majority Report coming shortly…

 

 

All animals are equal, but some want to tell us what we can say

Former ABC Chairman Maurice Newman has a great post in today’s Australian (paywall protected):

One of the remaining obstacles to the full realisation of the intelligentsia’s utopian dream is obedience. If critics can be controlled through propaganda and having the law narrowly define what speech is legal, we will arrive at their promised land more quickly.

As the concerted attacks last year on Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt illustrate, progress is being made. Indeed, so ferocious was the furore over Jones’s insensitive remarks, that a broadcaster with a lesser following would have been shut down by opponents who don’t even listen to him. The findings against Bolt were straight out of Orwell. It is a reminder that if laws are created to limit freedom of expression, they will be used…

The draft Human Rights and Anti-discrimination Bill 2012 seeks to further restrict our freedoms. While softened somewhat following strong criticisms, including from eminent retired judges, the reverse onus of proof remains, along with an expansion of victimhood.

The government says it never intended to restrict free speech, but the fact is, while it preaches liberty, it is about coercion. The bill is an ambit claim. We may ask, to whom is the government appealing? Since when has limiting our basic freedoms been advocated in an election campaign?

There is no popular groundswell. The government is responding to the collectivist instincts of those intellectuals who hold liberty in low regard. It isn’t so long ago that an academic floated the idea that we “suspend democracy” to silence climate change sceptics. Authoritarian government appeals to these people.

All the while, the public has been detached from the consequences of the government’s actions, accepting, somewhat gullibly, the well-meaning intent of minority protection without appreciating the erosion of its own rights. What it should know is that ceding freedom is never temporary. It simply leads to regular Sunday-morning assemblies, but without the debate. Far fetched? Believe that at your peril.

Click here to read the full piece

(h/t Andrew Bolt)

Don’t Reform the Human Rights Commission: Abolish It!

The Australian today reports of a Coalition plan to reform the Australian Human Rights Commission,  a body which, while launched with noble intentions, has become little more than a taxpayer funded far-left activist group  whose main activities these days seem to curtail human rights, not expand them and who shockingly advocated proposed anti-free speech laws in Australia.

THE Australian Human Rights Commission is slated for far-reaching changes in its culture, priorities and operational methods under a Coalition government, with opposition legal affairs spokesman George Brandis determined to transform the debate about human rights in Australia…

Brandis believes the commission fails in its responsibility to the wider Australian community. He thinks its view of human rights is narrow, self-serving and almost entirely focused on so-called egalitarian rights embedded in a discrimination fixation.

His plan is to elevate a Liberal Party conception of human rights, founded in individual freedom…

Explaining to The Australian the approach he would take, Brandis said: “What I want to see is more attention to all rights, not just rights the political Left finds to be ideologically appealing. What’s happened with the Human Rights Commission is that its functions arise from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights but with the passage of time more instruments have been added, particularly arising from (International Labour Organisation) conventions. The commission has become far more focused on anti-discrimination or what might be called industrial rights in the workplace. But the international covenant puts an equal emphasis on traditional rights of speech, association, worship and freedom of the press. And these are not being addressed. We will expect the commission to give proper attention to its charter.

This is certainly a step in the right direction. But it’s not good enough and Andrew Bolt is mistaken when he calls it “inspiring“.

The Human Rights Commission is a relic of an outdated ideology that has become little more than a job-placement centre for professional left-wing apparatchiks. As a taxpayer funded entity, irrespective of changes or the top, it will continue in this role: in much the same way that the Howard government failed to reform the ABC through changes at the Board level, the Human Rights Commission is beyond redemption.

If the Coalition was serious about preserving true liberties, it would abolish the Human Rights Commission. Some of its functions – the few useful ones it serves – can be adequately taken up by other agencies. But as long as it remains, it will continue to leech taxpayer funds to lobby for the antithesis of true liberties, and simple ‘reform’ will achieve nothing.

UPDATE: The Institute of Public Affairs has previously called for the abolition of the Human Rights Commission also.

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