As Mr Breheny goes onto note, we already have strong laws against intimidation, and the creation of this offence is indeed a violation of freedom of speech.
Australia isn’t the only Western country where freedom of the press is under attack by the government. The same thing is happening in the United States, or so argues James Goodale, former general counsel and vice chairman of The New York Times at the time the Pentagon Papers were published, and author of the forthcoming book Fighting for the Press, in which he argues that President Obama is “worse for press freedom than former President Richard Nixon was” and that “The Obama administration has prosecuted more alleged leakers of national security information under the 1917 Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined”.
The Columbia Journalism Review recently interviewed him:
Why aren’t more people angry about what they see as Obama’s aversion to press freedom?
They don’t believe it. I actually have talked to two investigative reporters who are household names, and I said, “Do you realize what’s happening to you if this goes forward?” And I talk, I get no response, and the subject shifts to other parts of the book. No one seems to care.
So you think that if John McCain or Mitt Romney were the president and doing this, there would be a different response?
We’d be screaming and yelling and the journalists would be going crazy. And that doesn’t speak well of journalists.
John Speer, from the University of Melbourne Liberal Club, writes in Quadrant Online on how the battle from free speech is far from won … and is most at threat in our Universities. The University of Melbourne Liberal Club, as it does every year, set up a stall to attract new students for the University’s O-Week. As part of their promotional material, they had a corflute of John Howard with the quote “we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come.”
Here is what happened:
Within minutes of displaying this corflute, members of the MULC were approached by university academics who believed it to be was ‘racist’ and ‘disgusting’. In addition to this, they insisted we had no right whatsoever to display it at our stall. Senior members of The Club explained that whilst they were free to hold those opinions, we were perfectly within our rights to voice our own beliefs and display a piece of official election material.
With the debate ending rather quickly, our stall was soon approached by the University of Melbourne’s security staff, who stated they had received “complaints” about the corflute. They then ordered the MULC booth off campus.
After it was explained that all present were both MULC members and students of the university, thus having a right to be present on university grounds, the security staff then attempted to remove the corflute from the grounds of the university.
Upon members reminding them that the corflute was a member of The Club’s own private property, they placed it back on the stall. In a desire not to inflame the situation, MULC members transported the stall off campus and onto public property in order to continue our membership drive
Click here to read the full account.
This incident is symbolic of the left’s approach to freedom of speech in the modern age. This desire to censor, to control, to regulate is bred in the incubators of our taxpayer funded universities, and this incident explains that while we may have won the battle over the Governments’ anti-free speech legislation, the war is far, far, far from over.
We need to take URGENT action to save free speech in Australia.
This Sunday, can you join an Emergency Action Rally outside the office of Commissar Stephen Conroy?
Speaking will be Senator Scott Ryan, Senator Mitch Fifield and Victorian State MLC Bernie Finn, as well as other great freedom fighters.
If this legislation is passed, we will join North Korea, Cuba and Iran as having some of the most repressive anti-free speech rules.
This is your opportunity to show Canberra that THEY CAN NOT TAKE AWAY OUR FREEDOMS!!!
The details are:
Date: Sunday, March 17
Address: 17 Mason St, Newport, Victoria
Please invite your family, your neighbours, your friends and let us send a message that Canberra can not ignore!!!
The more Australians who turn up on Sunday, the stronger the message we send!
I hope we will see you there!
Andrew Bolt sums it up perfectly:
Here are hints of the real problem, several drawn from Conroy’s unwittingly revealing interview last night on Lateline.
First, Conroy has already called an inquiry into what the Greens insisted was the “hate media” – an inquiry that focused on News Ltd and journalists reporting on climate change from a sceptical position. (Conroy really does believe there’s a News Ltd plot against the Gillard Government.)
Second, Conroy intervened to block News Ltd’s winning tender of the Australia Network, giving it back to the more friendly ABC.
Third, Conroy in this election year handed the ABC $10 million for news coverage.
Fourth, Conroy on Lateline cited as a benefit of the $37 billion NBN he’s building the ability to help Crikey, a hard-Left website:
I’m a huge supporter in trying to bring the National Broadband Network, which will allow all of those digital voices to come into people’s homes, but we’re not yet at the stage where Crikey, probably the most well-known blog/subscription model, actually only has about 15,000 customers.
Fifth, Conroy in citing the need for tougher rules against journalists just two examples of alleged error and bias that – surprise! – involve reports critical of the Gillard Government:
I think my colleague Anthony Albanese recently had an experience where a news report went to air on the nightly 6 o’clock news, he put in a complaint to the ACMA. He was upheld completely. All of the points made in the program were wrong….
I myself had an experience where someone complained about the Daily Telegraph’s reporting of the National Broadband Network. And they made three complaints. All of them were upheld by the Press Council. And they were ordered to – by the Press Council, the Daily Telegraph, to correct it prior to Christmas a couple of Christmases ago, and not only didn’t they comply with that, they waited until 27th December and they put it on I think about page 42 in tiny print.
Sixth, in saying on Lateline laws were needed for more diversity of opinion, he in the next breath mentioned News Ltd as an opponent:
So it will be a sad day for democracy if there was a further reduction in the diversity of opinion. So, News Limited have at times been quite hysterical about this.
And, seventh, I know Conroy has threatened a media organisation about giving me a platform, and also know how another media organisation has seen his threats of controls as threats meant to make their coverage more government friendly.
No one, but no one, should doubt that however Conroy dresses up these changes, they are an assault against the freedom of journalists to say what they think, and against the freedom of the public to hear whom they want.
It is astonishing – revolting – that such attacks on free speech should be launched in Australia
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.
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…
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)