Has control of free speech become a bipartisan value in Australia?


Prime Minister Scott Morrison is right to say that Australians are “sick of walking on eggshells” about the media’s preemptive declaration of a controversial topic.

Morrison’s comments sought evidence that overly sensitive ones considered offensive comments, following a malicious campaign scrutinizing the history of Catherine Debes’ social media.

Deves was the leader of the “Save Women’s Sport” group, which seeks to maintain the criteria for entry into women’s sports based on biology. She described the controversial practice of sex reassignment surgery for adolescents as “surgically amputated and sterilized.”

However, despite the Prime Minister’s principle declaration that Debes should not be “cancelled” because of her view, it was his own Minister of Communications, Paul, who recently promised to flood the Internet with eggshells.・ It was Fletcher.

In a quiet announcement in March, Fletcher revealed that the government would draft a new law to “counterfeit information” on the Internet. In Fletcher’s plan, the federal government will empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), the broadcaster’s regulator, to enforce standards for online content that it considers to be “disinformation” or “misinformation.” ..

These forces could be weaponized to keep out the very argument that Deves is currently malicious.

So far, government censors have not removed Deves’ comments, as Australia has not enforced arbitrary rules for online false alarms, which are widely accepted as a novel and ambiguous concept.

Epoch Times Photo
Waringa Catherine Deves’s liberal candidate is waiting for Prime Minister Scott Morrison at the 21st day liberal party rally of the 2022 Federal Election Campaign at Accor Stadium in Sydney, Australia on May 1, 2022. (AAPImage / Mick Tsikas)

However, under Fletcher’s proposal, government agencies are empowered to define “official” truths and what counts as accepted opinions in public and private discussions.

The Thought Police in Canberra, represented by ACMA, enforces its standards on digital platforms that sign Australia’s Code of Conduct on Disinformation and Misinformation.

Google, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter and Facebook have already signed up for the code, but are now voluntarily and self-regulated. The ACMA now wants the power to not only enforce the code, but also devise its own standards to encourage the platform to be more “ambitious” in censoring the content of the site.

What makes it really dangerous is the idea of ​​reducing “harm”. This is the main commitment of the Code and the main purpose of what ACMA implements. However, harm does not define how the average person understands it.

“Harm” can harm “democratic” processes such as “voting false information” that allow the ACMA to make decisions about the types of content that can mislead people in elections. It is defined in code with reference to things. The scope this gives ACMA to manage and manipulate public debates is clearly and significantly inconsistent with Australia’s tradition of free political communication during the election.

The definition of harm also includes harm to “public goods” such as “protecting the health of citizens, protecting marginalized or vulnerable groups, public safety and security or the environment”.

This could cover most of the ever-changing values ​​and priorities of the political class.

Do you oppose Net Zero to deal with climate change? It is harmful to the environment.

Do you oppose lockdown? It is harmful to public health.

Or, like Catherine Debes, if you believe that the participation of biological men in women’s sports is unfair or unsafe, it is harmful to the group that has reached its limits.

Epoch Times Photo
A track ad targeting the independent MP Theristeggal’s view on transgender issues will be seen on April 25, 2022 in the Warringa constituency in Sydney, Australia. (AdvanceAustralia / Facebook)

In effect, this would be an online backdoor expansion of the government’s hate speech law. Racism law makes it illegal to offend or insult people because of race, color, nationality, or ethnicity, while false information law is a victim of all kinds decided by the government. This kind of speech about the group is prohibited.

What is noteworthy about this is that it reveals about the modern Liberal Party. It was in 2013 that the Liberal Party opposed the Gillard Labor administration and blocked the Media Reform Act advocated by Stephen Conroy in the Senate.

The Media Reform Act, based on Finkelstein Inquiry’s recommendations, was to establish a new government regulatory agency for the media, empowering media to punish those who did not meet the criteria of “accuracy” and “fairness.”

Under Conroy’s media law, the government would have assumed the authority to tell the media what they could say, in effect, according to the definition of fair or accurate.

Now the government is reviving Finkelstein (Fletcher’s Finkelstein) and telling all Australians what they can say online according to their own definition of harmful disinformation.

The need to control freedom of speech and narrow the parameters of democratic debate is clearly a bipartisan value in Canberra.

But the power that Canberra is seeking is completely unjustified, and there is no place in the free society that Australia once had and should aim for again.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Morgan Beg


Morgan Begg is the Director of the Legal Rights Program at the Institute of Public Affairs in Melbourne, Australia. His interests are in constitutional government and the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, especially in relation to anti-discrimination law.