A Handbook for Our Difficult Times

George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four has been selling extremely well in today’s troubled times. Even though it was first published 70 years ago we still are able to heed its warnings and to see the very things it describes happening in our own countries today.

Last week Australian Federal Police officers rifled through the home of a News Corp journalist and the offices of ABC journalists. […] Just a team of polite civil servants, ordering sandwiches and coffee while they rummaged through homes and workplaces, armed with slippery words in laws to justify them infringing our freedoms.

Outraged journalists said it was chilling. Alas, many of these same journalists have not been doing their job if they haven’t noticed this is how free speech is silenced today. In the past decade a growing cadre of civil servants, from human rights commissioners to university vice-chancellors, all good mannered, nicely dressed people, have used crafty works in laws and other instruments to curb out most fundamental right to speak freely.

In fact, it is the very groups that we would expect to protect our freedom of speech who are calling for it to be restricted. The NZ Human Rights Commission is supporting hate speech legislation to restrict our free speech, and so-called civil liberties groups in New Zealand are also calling for restrictions on our free speech.

Orwell warned us to watch out for New Speak, Thought Police and the Ministry of Truth; their common denominators is slippery language to control speech in order to control how people think.

[…] More than 10 years ago, the Alberta Human Rights Commission in Canada investigated a complaint brought against commentator Ezra Levant for publishing the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed. The complaint was dropped, but not before a bureaucrat questioned Levan about his intention in publishing the cartoons.

Levant described it like this: “No six-foot brown shirt here, no police cell at midnight. Just Shirlene McGovern, an amiable enough bureaucrat, casually asking me about my political thoughts, on behalf of the government of Alberta. And she’ll write up a report about it and recommend that the government do this or that to me.

“I had half-expected a combative, missionary-style interrogator. I found, instead, a limp clerk who was just punching the clock … In a way, that’s more terrifying,” he wrote about the process that reminded him of Hannah Arendt’s banality of evil.

Just imagine your fate in the hands of some pasty-faced bureaucrat with short man syndrome and the power to declare whether or not you calling your mate a bloody wingeing Pom after he called you a hard-headed coconut after a game of rugby is going to…

A) be labelled hate speech

B) result in a fine of $2000

C) cost you your job

D) send you to jail, directly to jail, do not pass go do not collect $200.

Former Australian Human Rights commissioner Gillian Triggs and one-time Race Discrimination Commissioner Tim Soutphommasane.

In 2011, Andrew Bolt was prosecuted under section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act for causing offence by pointing out the foibles of claiming indigenous ancestry. In passing, the judge frowned over the tone of his writing.

The Australian Human Rights Commission used the same laws to investigate The Australian’s Bill Leak in 2016 for his powerful cartoon about the complex issues of individual responsibility and the dismal plight of indigenous people.

Liberal MP Julian Leeser once said of the UN Human Rights Council: “We read Orwell as a warning; they read Orwell as a textbook.” His observation applies equally to the AHRC: as race commissioner, Tim Soutphommasane encouraged complaints to come forward over Leak’s cartoon.

The AHRC toyed with students from Queensland University of Technology too after they made innocuous comments on Facebook when they were kicked out of an indigenous-only computer lab. One student wrote: “QUT stopping segregation with segregation.” What part of that was untrue? Yet it took two years of complaints, investigations, interviews and mounting legal bills before the complaint was thrown out. And the chilling effect of those laws remains intact.

[…] Last year, physics professor Peter Ridd was sacked by James Cook University for raising questions about the quality of climate research by some of his colleagues. The university used a code of conduct and claims of “collegial behavior” to get him off campus. ABC HQ showed no interest in asking why the university didn’t encourage a debate about Ridd’s claims or even why it shut him down.

During the federal election,[…] Greens leader Richard Di Natale said he wanted hate speech laws to regulate the media to hold the likes of Bolt, Alan Jones and Chris Kenny to account. This proposal would kill a free, independent media in Australia. Hate speech, as defined by the like of Di Natale, will be defined by the media they hate. Orwell warned us about this, too.

[…] the Gillard government proposed an Orwellian regime of government oversight to make the media “balanced” and “accountable”. As James Paterson, now a Liberal senator, wrote then: “The last time that media outlets were subject to press licensing in the English-speaking world was 1693. What was too tyrannical for the English in the time of William and Mary is apparently acceptable in 21st-century Australia.”

Note the manipulation of subjective language to curb free speech: the AFP relies on “national security” to search a journalist’s underwear drawer, the Gillard government wanted to legislate for a “balance” and “accountable” media, 18C prohibits people saying things that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate”, the Greens want to outlaw “hate speech”, and a university relied on “collegial behavior”.

The Australian

The press need to start fighting for free speech, because without it there will be no free press. They need to defend the rights of their fellow citizens to speak freely if they want the same freedom for themselves.

[…] As Canadian commentator Mark Steyn famously said about free speech, it is not a left-right thing. It is a free-unfree thing. And therein lies the curse of the modern left: a pusillanimous attitude towards a core piece of intellectual machinery necessary in a healthy democracy.

The Australian