Freedom of speech, belief and association of freedoms for which our forebears sacrificed. They understood the importance of nurturing these freedoms. These freedoms have allowed us to explore, develop and nuance ideas, philosophical, political, scientific and religious, amongst others.
Today, our society is in grave danger of losing this rich heritage, together with its attendant benefits. That is why I have taken this, the first opportunity the 46th Parliament has afforded me, to make a plea to defend our freedoms. To fail to do so is to squander the legacy bequeathed to us. Of late we have been witnessing elements, some arrogantly—most others I am sure are naively motivated, but to the same effect—silencing, punishing and intimidating people with whom they disagree.
Our universities, which should be the nursery of free speech, are often not only failing their own rich heritage in this regard but actively destroying it. From students to senior lecturers, there’s a growing list of shameful incidents. The contest of ideas and research methodologies should be encouraged, not punished. As Justice Vasta said in the Ridd case:
Incredibly, the university has not understood the whole concept of intellectual freedom. In the search for truth, it is an unfortunate consequence that some people may feel denigrated, offended, hurt or upset. It may not always be possible to act collegiately when diametrically opposed views clash in the search for truth.
He also said that intellectual freedom:
allows academics to express their opinions without fear of reprisals. … And that, at its core, is what higher learning is about.
We see the same corrosion of standards in sport. Rugby Australia’s unprecedented and unprincipled dismissal of Israel Folau has become the latest ugly example. Mr Folau, our best rugby player, was sacked for taking to social media with a paraphrased quote from the Holy Bible. Rugby Australia now claims it was the threat of the withdrawal of sponsorship which motivated them. That turns the spotlight onto the corporate bullying, while not excusing Rugby Australia’s cowardice. The abuse of corporate sponsorship to manipulate team selection, especially on religious views, is reprehensible. Trying the same corporate ugliness on Izzy’s wife, a sportswoman in her right, for supporting him, is reprehensible writ large.
In an exercise of Orwellian proportions, these sports stars were targeted for exclusion in the name of “inclusion” and discriminated against in the name of “tolerance”. You don’t have to agree with Izzy to agree with his right to express his religious views, or his wife’s right to back him. Today it’s Izzy’s religious views and his wife’s loyal support.
Yesterday it was Professor Ridd’s scientific views. Tomorrow it might be somebody’s political view. The next might be someone’s environmental view. This is a fight for freedom of speech which impacts us all.
The government must, and I am confident will, respond to the expressions of the “quiet Australians” on 18 May and ensure our freedoms, which were bought with the highest of prices, are not sacrificed and squandered on the altar of political correctness. As Sir Robert Menzies so articulately encapsulated in ‘We Believe’: ‘We believe in the great human freedoms: to worship, to think, to speak.‘
Freedom is worth defending. Freedom is worth nurturing. Freedom is worth championing. As our national anthem extols, ‘Australians all let us rejoice, For we are young and free‘. Let’s keep it that way.