Freedom of speech is not a free for all

Joe Morrison

Joe Morrison

Freedom of speech seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment.

Regrettably, there is a considerable degree of misunderstanding of the privilege of free speech in Australia.

For example, in his latest electorate newsletter, local federal member, Rowan Ramsey mounts a misguided attempt to justify his party’s latest futile attempt to change Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The purpose of the freedom of speech principle is to enable us all to use what the Americans call “protected political speech” to express contentious views without fear of legal consequences.

Its purpose is not to facilitate a free for all in which we can grossly vilify people whose colour, creed or beliefs we simply don’t like.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied was arguably using protected political speech in her comments on Anzac Day but it’s unclear whether her main offence was a) being a woman b) being Muslim c) being young d) all of the above or d) simply being connected to the ABC at the time of her tweets.

Margaret Court was also using protected political speech in her recent comments on same sex marriage.

The views of both women offended me but they had a right to express them.

In his article, Mr Ramsey asserts he was deeply offended by “politically correct” reactions to the late Bill Leak’s racially provocative cartoon.

As a political cartoonist, Leak was in no danger of conviction as Section 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act provides absolute protection for political commentators in the course of their work and Mr Ramsey should be an expert on this distinction.

The parliamentary representative of a culturally diverse electorate like Grey should be assisting electors to understand the difference between protected political speech and blatant personal and racial abuse.

It’s not political correctness to insist on basic human decency.