The Freedom to be Wrong

Recently the Attorney-General, George Brandis’ amendments to the Racial Discrimination Act have come under fire by the political elite, claiming they are in support of bigotry. In fact these laws simply take human rights out of the hands of the government and allow the free-exchange of ideas without external interference. Few people on either side of parliament are bigoted or want to make it easier for serious verbal damage to be done to our ethnic communities but the fact is that it is very difficult to legally define what constitutes ‘offensive.’

The 1995 amendments section 18 to The Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) by the Keating government made it illegal to ‘offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate’ others based on their race or ethnicity. At first glance these provisions may seem reasonable after all, for example, their is no doubt as to the humiliation that survivors of the holocaust must feel when extreme-right fringe-dwellers undermine their experiences by denying the atrocity ever happened. However it is by being able to withstand critique that the truth is all the more relevant. As John Stuart Mill said ‘If all mankind minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.’ To have strength in our convictions we must be exposed to all contrary viewpoints. You cannot simply oppose something while being forbidden to know precisely what it is that you oppose.

Furthermore, with pre-existing statutory conditions on defamation and vilification there is adequate scope for the rights of individuals to be protected without imposing rigorous sanctions on the freedom of speech.

But this isn’t enough for ethnic advocates  with Jewish community leader Jeremy Jones fearing that the new legislation could open the door for holocaust deniers. Left-wing intellectuals argue that freedom of expression must be counter-balanced with the freedom to be free from verbal persecution.

I argue however, how can freedom of speech remain uncompromised if it is to be qualified by the  subjective standards of the government?

To bind free expression to the caveat of whether it conforms to the standards of the government of the day is to nullify it completely. If you believe in freedom of speech you believe in it on a sunny and a wet day, and uphold that no matter whether the speaker is Andrew Bolt or Sarah Hanson-Young, in the eyes of the law, their opinions are no more or less legitimate.

There are many that say that society is not comprised of an even playing field and that individuals like Cory Bernardi and Alan Jones are given a disproportionate  voice compared to the minorities they denounce  and that the government is required to step in as an independent arbiter. These people should be reminded that the government is in itself a class compromised of the upper echelons of society from the top-tier, sandstone universities and beset with a born to rule mentality fixated from birth. To have them as the qualifier of what is in good taste is to place severe boundaries on culture and expression.

Moreover, is there any practical outcomes to be achieved by the prohibition of free speech? History shows that when you try to put a cap on the bottle, the cap bursts off. With almost every government intervention there is a reasonable backlash which quite often strengthens the cause of the suppressed individuals. The fact remains that people aren’t cured from being a racist by governmental legislation, the process is cultural and starts from the bottom up.

To combat racism and bigotry the onus is on individuals, families, schools, work-places and media outlets to inform the people that that is not okay conduct. The suggestion that we need a centralised body to do so shows a fundamental distrust for humanity arguing that teachers, family members and colleagues are incapable of taking the initiative themselves to combat discrimination. The attitude that only government can save us from ourselves ultimately plays into the hands of the policy-making elites in allowing them to dictate the terms in which we interact and, in doing so, depriving us of our individual responsibility.

Edited by Matt Russell

Manufactured Democracy: The Case Against Affirmative Action in Parliament.

Timothy O'Hare

Recently Liberal back-bencher Sharman Stone called for the Liberal Party to introduce compulsory female quotas in winnable seats. This is similar to the Labor Party’s “Emily’s List”, founded in 1996, which aimed to enforce the quotas set by the ALP’s National Conference by ensuring that 35 percent of pre-selected candidates were women (subsequently expanded to 40 percent in 2012). Years ago, the prospect of such proposals ever being made in the Liberal Party, with its classical liberal heritage and belief in individualism, would have been absurd, but such is our national discourse where very little is impossible.

The notion of affirmative action (AA) is providing additional opportunity for a disadvantaged group. At first glance this appears inherently positive and there are some compelling arguments for applying it in a general sense (e.g. in the work-place, university placements, etc). However in an area as multi-faceted as our political system, the argument becomes complex.

At its core, proponents of “political AA” argue that it is giving a voice to a disempowered set of people so that they can bring perspectives and concerns to the table that remain otherwise unaddressed.

Nevertheless in our highly sophisticated political system where the major parties select candidates to contest the 150 seats in the House of Representatives and six seats per State in the Senate each election, it is very difficult to achieve proportional representation without interfering in the competitive democratic process. When you accept that only at most ninety of the candidates for each seat in the House of Representatives from both the major parties are serious contenders and two from the Senate, then you can see how tenuous the relationship between affirmative action and a fair pre-selection process is.

Anyone who says that democracy is a small price to pay for equal representation should be given the job of telling those unfortunate candidates that they will have to “make way for progress”.

The late Baroness Thathcer is one such example of a fine female politician who earned her office through merit, not with the assistance of anti-meritocratic quotas, using that position to save Britain from Socialism and being instrumental in bringing down multiple totalitarian regimes.    via Business Insider

The late Baroness Thathcer is one such example of a fine female politician who earned her office through merit, not with the assistance of anti-meritocratic quotas, using that position to save Britain from Socialism and being instrumental in bringing down multiple totalitarian regimes. via Business Insider

Furthermore, how do you quantify disadvantage?

While at a surface level you may say that overall, women are more disadvantaged than men through areas such as income and work place relations, however, there is obviously far more that divides society than simply gender.

Affirmative action isn’t pitting women against men, it’s putting female individuals against male individuals across the national stage and it’s impossible to say categorically just what percentage of those women are worse off than their male competitors. Would anyone argue, for example, that Bronwyn Bishop has had less opportunities in life than Labor’s Ed Husic who was raised a Muslim in Western Sydney, yet managed to rise to representing them in the outer-suburban seat of Chifley?

Some men are excessively advantaged while others are beacons of Australian endeavour yet proponents of affirmative  action would have them all boxed in together and therefore subject to the same limitations.

Then there’s the merit argument, often misrepresented by commentators from the far-right. While party pre-selection processes are not necessarily as open as they should be, the fact remains that a prospective candidate cannot win pre-selection from either of the major parties without a sizeable chunk of local support. With men significantly outnumbering women in both the Labor and Liberal branches across the country this means that there is substantially more competition amongst male candidates, ensuring that only the best and brightest (and most well-connected) are pre-selected. This inevitably means that women in parliament will often be less respected by their male colleagues as they are perceived to have not faced the same rigorous competitive processes to get there. Thus, female candidates are quite often reduced to mere boxes to be ticked by party headquarters for the sake of expediency and the social barriers that marginalise women persist.

I feel that the cause for greater gender representation within the two major parties would be far better served if proponents instead organised at a local level to get more women into branches and active in the party process. This would help cultivate diversity organically, instigating a cultural change from the bottom up and, in doing so, close the gap once and for all between the genders.

Edited by Matt Russell