July 31st, 2014 at 06:30pm
The lady who gained national attention earlier this year for a racist rant on a train has been given a sensible sentence by the courts: no fine and no recorded conviction. Unfortunately she has been placed on a good behaviour bond, but I suspect Magistrate Teresa O’Sullivan did this only because Karen Bailey pleaded guilty to using offensive language, and failing to hand her some sort of punishment would have led to an appeal in front of a judge with less sense when it comes to matters of freedom of speech.
The real travesty here is that there is a law which makes her racist rant illegal. This law is entirely unnecessary as, apart from anything else, public reaction on the train where other people used their own freedom of speech to counter her absurd rant was enough to eventually shut her down. The public humiliation which followed when footage turned up online and on television was further punishment for her, as her court statements show.
Karen Bailey, 55, pleaded guilty to offensive language in the Downing Centre Local Court today and told Magistrate Teresa O’Sullivan she was “absolutely appalled” at her behaviour.
She had written a letter of apology to the court
Both the on-train reaction and the public airing of her rant and accompanying condemnation were exercises of freedom of speech, and proved the best defence against absurd uses of free speech is more use of free speech. Laws prohibiting certain types of speech inhibit this ability of a society to self-moderate, and worse still if such laws do reduce the amount of absurd speech, we end up in a situation where some groups don’t hear regular reminders that society doesn’t accept certain views, and can become radicalised in those views because they believe such views are widespread but silenced…at least when such views are intermittently aired and reacted to, people holding such views understand how these views are seen by society.
Unfortunately there are bigger issues with a lack of freedom of speech in Australia as, right now, there is a court order which can not be mentioned either by content or name (even writing this is skirting on the edge of the law) and we have to rely on foreign press to mention it as domestic media and citizens would be in contempt of court if they mention it. That law is a true disgrace as, while it is reasonable for a court to prevent some details from being mentioned while the court proceedings are in progress, the prevention of noting that such a court order exists is a sure fire way to diminish trust (which is dependent on relative transparency) in the courts.
Freedom of speech, while never enshrined in law in this country, really is in trouble while we have all of these restrictive laws in place.