Australian Notes

Australian notes

27 August 2016

9:00 AM

27 August 2016

9:00 AM

Turnbull’s betrayal on 18c

Okay, let’s stop pretending that the Liberal Party has a deep commitment to free speech. We’re now at the stage where ‘Liberal Party’ and ‘commitment to free speech’ go together about as well as ‘European Union’ and ‘democratic decision-making’ or ‘Mike Baird’ and ‘greyhound racing’. It’s plain that a lot of Liberal MPs simply don’t give a rat’s you-know-what about one of the core Enlightenment values that powered the West’s success and prosperity these past couple of centuries. Beyond the occasional Je suis Charlie tweet, to indulge in a little bit of bumper sticker moralising and virtue signalling, these parliamentarians simply don’t get the value of the John Stuart Mill conception of free speech (assuming they know who Mill was) and are not likely to change any time soon.

And it’s worse under Turnbull than it was under Abbott, if you can believe it. I was assuredly one of the loudest and angriest critics of Tony back when he caved in on his attempt to repeal most of 18C, our invidious Labor-legislated hate speech law. I thought at the time Abbott was making a huge mistake by selling out his political base to try and win a bit of slack from the ABC (laughable, when you think about it) and from what he called ‘Team Australia’ which is a euphemism for the ethnic vote, and especially the Muslim vote. Again, on what planet does it make sense to sell out one of your core values – because it was and is a core value for Abbott personally – for such an ethereal and unlikely prospect of getting these votes based on the sole fact you did not press on with repealing 18C?

But to be fair to Abbott it was clear that many in his party did not share his personal desire to be rid of 18C. Whoever the people preselecting Liberal Party candidates are, they don’t care about free speech. Just look at the new intake of MPs. More than a few seem to hold Labor-lite views generally; a bunch haven’t got a word to say in favour of free speech; and of those that do voice support for free speech I’d be surprised if any of them would go to the wall and cross the floor to support it. Okay, maybe one or two. For the rest, the job and a cushy pension come above all else.

So Abbott had to deal with that in caucus. And he had a feral Senate that would never have passed a Bill amending 18C. Nevertheless, it would still have been the politically right thing to do to push on and make the Senate block the repeal of 18C. Right in principle and right politically for the party, and for him in keeping his PM’s job. So Abbott made a huge error in not doing so. Indeed, very recently in his speech at the Samuel Griffith Society he acknowledged this error and that he should have tried.


Which brings us to his successor, the most left-wing Liberal party leader and Prime Minister ever. Mr Turnbull last week laid down the law. Everyone in Cabinet was ordered not to vote for any Private Member’s Bill seeking to water down 18C. This is a disgrace. This isn’t giving up on trying for reform, as Abbott did. This is actively blocking reform.

So out trots Mr Morrison soon after the Turnbull edict on 18C came down to say his focus is elsewhere; it’s on the economy, not on free speech. In themselves those words are pretty frightening, given that Morrison has thus far proven to be a big spending, high taxing, Labor-lite Treasurer. I don’t know about you, but I’d be pretty happy if Morrison focused on just about anything other than our economy, given the decisions he’s made so far. I bet not many of you thought that Joe Hockey’s successor could one day make you get down on your knees and wish Hockey were back as Treasurer.

But who’s Morrison kidding? You either decide to support emasculating 18C, and so reinvigorating free speech in this country, or you don’t. Focus on whatever you like. Just vote for Bob Day’s private member’s Bill to delete the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from 18C. Heck, this is a watered-down, half-hearted response to the awfulness of 18C to begin with. There’s nothing taking him away from his core Ministerial responsibilities involved here, and it’s embarrassing that Morrison could pretend otherwise.

Then there is our Attorney-General Mr Brandis. Last year he had some sort of Damascene conversion. Beforehand he’d travelled the country beating the drum for some sort of repeal of 18C, often likening himself to a latter day John Stuart Mill. Today the man can’t even support the QUT students being dragged through Human Rights Commission 18C hell, and through the courts. Brandis has the power to at least indemnify the legal costs of these students. He has decided not to do so. What a disgrace for someone who styles himself a Liberal. Then again, this is the same Attorney General who appointed Ed Santow to replace Tim Wilson on the HRC, the same Ed Santow who has yet to say a word in defence of free speech. Brought to you by your Liberal Party, my friends.

And that brings me to various acquaintances who listed Malcolm’s support for free speech (and Tony’s lack of such support) as the main reason they favoured the defenestrating coup. Still think the shift to Turnbull was a good idea? Still think the massive transaction costs involved in ditching a sitting PM and alienating a million plus party members was worth it? Heck, I wouldn’t be surprised if it were Turnbull doing the undermining of Abbott on 18C back before the latter threw in the towel on this.

Andrew Bolt asks ‘name one thing that Turnbull has done in his year in the job?’ That’s not quite right because he’s done plenty. It’s just that they’re all left-leaning; like throwing more money at renewables and ‘innovation’ (don’t ask me??), trying to buy a few seats in SA by coughing up huge amounts on inferior home built subs, undermining superannuation, doing deals with the Greens, and so on. The actual question should be ‘name one thing that Turnbull has done in his year that a Liberal voter could be proud of?’ Those of you who thought fixing up 18C might be on this invisible list might like to concede you were wrong.

The post Australian notes appeared first on The Spectator.

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