Julia’s speech therapy We can’t stop the tax from getting through the parliament, but we can repeal it

Freedom of speech really doesn’t exist in this country

September 28th, 2011 at 12:55pm

Today’s ruling in the Federal Court is a worry. It may very well be legally accurate (and I make no comment on its legal accuracy) but it spells out a very worrying precedent in this country.

HERALD Sun columnist Andrew Bolt has lost an action brought in the Federal Court in which the columnist was accused of breaching the Racial Discrimination Act.

Bolt was found to have contravened Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

Nine aboriginal applicants brought a class-action against Bolt and the Herald and Weekly Times claiming Bolt wrote they sought professional advantage from the colour of their skin.
In concluding the eight day proceedings, counsel for the plaintiffs conceded Bolt’s writings did not incite “racial vilification or racial hatred”, rather they “constituted highly personal, highly derogatory and highly offensive attacks” on the nine individuals.

(h/t Michael Bodey for The Australian)

This ruling spells out in clear legal judgement that it is an offence in this country to offend someone. It has long been true in this country that we don’t actually have a right to freedom of speech as such, but that we have generally accepted that we are able to speak our mind with the exception of laws relating to defamation. For a very long time we have accepted this as being “fair enough”…but now I really do start to wonder.

How can a society be free if its citizens are not free to exchange thoughts and ideas? There is clearly no freedom of expression if merely offending someone constitutes a criminal act, and in the free exchange of ideas on controversial subjects, the fact is that people will occasionally be offended by the thoughts of others. I am very worried by the fact that the people who are offended now have a clearly defined legal ability to take somebody to court for offending them when, I believe, in a free society the appropriate recourse for being offended is to argue and disagree with the person who caused the offence.

In a free society, one should have the right to disagree with others, but one should not have the right to avoid being offended; one should have the right to seek legal recourse for defamation, but not for being offended.

Freedom of speech, which I admit never truly existed in this country, is officially dead, however it can be revived. I do believe that this country needs, enshrined in law and preferably the constitution, the right to freedom of speech, if it is to have any hope of long-term success as a free country. This may take time, so to start with in the short term, laws which inhibit freedom of speech such as the Racial Discrimination Act need to be repealed or amended.

Today’s ruling, no matter how legally accurate it may be, scares me greatly. It scares me because I can see the consequences that this type of law will have on this country, and it scares me because I worry about my own safety as a person who happens to have an opinion. It, sadly, adds to my reasons for wanting to seek freer lands.

I hold out hope that this ruling helps to pave the way for the citizens of this great country to stand up for freedom of speech and to do what is needed to protect it.

I hold out hope because, for the moment at least, one can hope, and one can dream, but one apparently can’t talk about it for fear of a court ruling that someone else was offended by it. What utterly ridiculous and dangerous times we are living in.


Entry Filed under: General News,Samuel's Editorials

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  • 1. frank83  |  September 29th, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    This ruling spells out in clear legal judgement that it is an offence in this country to offend someone.

    I’ve read the entire judgement Sam and I cannot find a single sentence that validates your above statement. I would be very interested to see where the judgement “clearly spells out” that “it is an offence in this country to offend someone”.

    Further, I’m wondering what you mean by an “offence”. Those accused of committing offences are tried in the criminal court, preceded by the offender being charged by police with the offence.

    Andrew Bolt was not charged, nor was he tried in a criminal court. Rather this was a civil claim brought against him. I’d therefore be curious how the judgement spells out he is guilty of committing an offence.

  • 2. Samuel  |  September 29th, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I was waiting to see how long it would be for someone to notice the incorrect terminology, and to see who would be the first to mention…I can’t say that I’m surprised that it was you.

    Be it a criminal offence or against a law that would be used in a civil proceeding, it doesn’t matter. A law which makes it illegal to offend someone has been used in this ruling. The type of illegality is irrelevant…the fact that it is illegal at all is abhorrent.

  • 3. Steph  |  October 6th, 2011 at 12:10 pm

    I think there is a very fine line between offence and defamation and i have believed for some time that freedom of speech has never really existed in Australia. However i don’t see how anything can change too quickly. This country is slow to change and i think it will take a lot more cases like this one before anyone even thinks that something needs to be done.

    I note you mentioned about wanting to seek freer lands. Im sorry but where is that exactly. You may be able to find a country with laws on freedom of speech that are more acceptable to you, but they will no doubt fall down in some other area. Nowhere is perfect. Thats human nature.

  • 4. Samuel  |  October 13th, 2011 at 6:18 am

    I apologise Steph as I should have replied sooner.

    I think this case, due to its high profile, has started something. We will see change, but you are right in that it will take time. Absolute freedom of speech has its problems and defamation is one of them, but I think Australia has swung too far from the ability of people to say what they believe and this needs to be fixed. People should still be able to sue for defamation, but even with that, I think we need to look at the balance the ability to express one’s beliefs and the ability to protect one’s character and image.

    As for freer lands, again you are right that all places have their faults due to human nature, but I am not seeking perfection as I know that such a thing can not exist in a human society. I also know that what suits me in a society might not suit others. For me, the United States of America seems like a good fit, but I’m hesitant just at the moment to actually follow through on that thought because the whole place seems to be at a crossroads. I like what the Tea Party folks are doing but I’m not sure if their vision will be the direction of their country and I need to wait and see what happens over there before I can consider a move and the logistics of it…and anyway, Australia might do what I would consider to be “fixing itself” before events play out to their conclusion in the US, and that could make me reconsider the whole thing.


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