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Nick McKim on Freedom of Speech

Speeches in Parliament
Nick McKim 10 May 2017

It is interesting that we are often subjected to, it has to be said, lectures mainly from the Liberal backbench and their fellow right-wingers in One Nation and Senator Bernardi's newly minted Australian Conservatives about what they describe as their unshakeable belief in freedom. In fact, it is often their first point of reference in their malicious attempts to water down protections against race-based hate speech. You can be absolutely certain that we are going to hear more of it this year in this place. This so-called unshakeable belief in freedom is a brazen and fundamentally dishonest position when you look at the track record on human rights of the people who purport to be the great freedom warriors in this place. It is most obviously displayed in the absolute horrors that this government is visiting on innocent people that we are incarcerating on Manus Island and Nauru right now—a denial of basic freedom which has cost people their lives and which has cost many others serious injuries and many, many others serious psychological torment.

While the wealthy politicians—almost exclusively middle-aged white blokes—moan and whinge about how they should be free to use the 'n' word without consequence in this country, or bizarrely complain in this place about the suppression of holocaust deniers, they keep silent the tortured screams of the men, women and children on Manus Island and Nauru in Australia's offshore detention regime.

Of course, they are members of a government that stubbornly entrenches discrimination in the Marriage Act. It is a denial of the very basic freedom that one ought to have in Australia: to marry the person that you love. And what of their deafening silence about their good mates in One Nation and their consistent attacks on freedom of religion in this place—basically, their Islamophobia? What of their massive expansion of the surveillance state that we have seen in recent years in this country, where hard-won civil liberties that Australian soldiers have fought and tragically died for in wars are eroded away time after time after time in this place? They are attacks on fundamental freedoms led by the people who claim to defend freedom in this place.

And what about their attack on the rights of Australians to live in a clean environment and to breathe clean air, and their continued war on the planet through massive new coalmines and other policies that make climate change worse?

How many freedoms will that compromise, and how many lives will that cost? What are they doing to ensure that people have a right to a home, to shelter, or that people are free from poverty?

The simple fact is that the Liberal senators who want to water down protections against race based hate speech in this country, the Liberal senators who claim to be the great freedom warriors in this place, are far more interested in the rights of people who look like them and sound like them, people who went to the same private schools that they did. They bemoan identity politics, but they come after people who do no share their identity. That is why there are no wealthy middle-aged white blokes imprisoned on Manus Island or Nauru. These people—the self-styled freedom warriors—care about freedom, or purport to care about freedom, for people who are already very free. But for those who lack freedom, the Liberal Party offers nothing. They want racists to be free to offend, to insult, to humiliate other people on the basis of their race. It is like trickle-down economics in social policy, and it is just as flawed in its logic.

The government seems to believe that if people like them are unburdened of their basic civic responsibilities like paying tax, looking after the environment and not being incredible racists, then eventually all of us are going to live in some kind of utopia. Well, these conservatives who would like to imagine that they have inherited the principles of the French Revolution are actually nothing more than stale, reheated culture warriors, spouting the same old tired garbage that Bob Santamaria bored us to sleep with on our televisions in the 1980s. When they talk about protecting freedom, they really mean protecting the entrenched ruling class, its property and its privilege in this country. To take up the French Revolution metaphor again, they are actually the aristocrats, not the revolutionaries.

And I want to name one particular culture warrior who has been particularly egregious in his decades of fighting against the rights of others to be free, and that is my fellow Tasmanian senator Senator Eric Abetz, a man who spent his earliest days in this place arguing against Tasmania's decision to legalise homosexuality. His battle against LGBTI rights continues to this very day, whether it be against rainbow flags in the foyer or for the incredibly harmful practice of conversion therapy. Culture war is total war for Senator Abetz. And he has now freed himself of any notion of being a representative for the Tasmanian people, and that is why Tasmania fared so abjectly poorly in tonight's budget. And Senator Abetz, of course, has decided to channel all of his remaining energies into the things he really hates: LGBTI rights, the ABC and the Human Rights Commission. His latest target, of course, has been Yassmin Abdel-Magied, who has been subjected to disgraceful public denigration by Senator Abetz and others with whom he shares views in this place and by their hacks and masters at The Daily Telegraph and The Australian over an innocuous seven-word Facebook post. That campaign continues today—15 days after that post was made. The fact that the campaign continues shows that Senator Abetz and his colleagues in the race-baiting media in this country could not give a fig about freedom when it comes to a woman of colour in Australia.

I also want to make a comment about the newest entrant into the Liberal Democrats, the former leader of the Australian Labor Party, Mark Latham, who apparently met his new political bedfellows at a Friedman Liberty Conference and apparently got a massive round of applause when he showed up there. Make no mistake. These are the sorts of small-government, pro-freedom types who clearly really like the company of a bully on a taxpayer funded pension who now passes his time wandering around the streets of Western Sydney with a microphone insulting random passers-by. This is the same crowd, I remind the Senate, who thought it was funny when Ross Cameron threw a Nazi salute at a Jewish journalist who was covering the event. Well, all I can say to Mark Latham and to the Liberal Democrats is: you thoroughly deserve each other.

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