By James Boyce Free speech is a myth. There, I said it. The idea that we can say or express ourselves however we want is nothing more than a myth. Now, before you recoil and turn the page to someone that will encourage you to say and act however you feel, do one of three things;
First, read through our Constitution and see if you can find the clause that tells you that you can say or do what you like. Ok, that’s a boring idea. Instead, why don’t you think back to standing at the ANZAC Day Service and imagine the guy behind the pulpit swearing a lot during his speech. That doesn’t seem suitable? But it’s not exactly illegal is it… righto; instead, Google Australia’s incumbent Attorney General, George Brandis QC, and the Racial Discrimination Act of 1975.
However you consider it, speech in Australia is not, and should not, be free. The Racial Discrimination Act that was so talked about last month is predominantly to do with protecting people of all race, ethnicity and colour from discrimination. Its final selection of clauses, specifically 18C, makes it illegal to stand in a public meeting, like a Town Hall, and spout rhetoric against a particular ethnic group: Pauline Hanson only got away with it because in Parliament, you can say anything you want, and churches get away with it because they are sacred ground. But stand on a street corner and it’s an ‘Unlawful Act’. When Brandis suggested that this section was no longer needed in Australia, he received an opposing barrage of people wanting to strengthen it!
We don’t call this censorship, because we really like our multicultural façade that covers our racist tendencies; that way have our cake and eat it too. Our society recognises that some things are restricted for a variety of reasons; reasons designed to reflect societies values. We recently permitted computer games to hold an R18+ rating so that the more violent or adult-themed games can be sold in Australia, even though we subsequently removed elements from some because they went too far. We similarly restrict TV, movies and some music from being watched or heard by younger members of society, as they may not be able to comprehend it in context. We ban completely sexual material involving violence or children, and rightly so, as our society considers it to be vulgar and disgusting. All these things reflect what is common and what is ordinary.
Our legal system is designed this way; to reflect the values of Australia. It’s why we restrict and ban drugs and guns. But on the flip side, the responsibility of society is that we have to ensure, through the vote and exercising the freedom of speech we have, that the restrictions do properly reflect society. We do not make things legal in our society, we make things illegal. Our society is built on the idea that everything should be available to everyone, except the things we expressly restrict and the voters, periodically, review those restrictions.
Every individual in Australia can write or contact their local Member of Parliament, Federal and State; to have their voice heard on current issues. You don’t have to be over 18 or have voted for that person to have your voices heard on any topic. Whether it’s gay marriage or legalizing marijuana, if only one side of an argument makes their voice heard, the debate ends. That is the value and the price of living in Australia. Free speech is not a right in this great land. It’s a duty.
James is about to finish a Bachelor of Arts before starting a Master of Teaching. He enjoys exploring as many new things as possible.