Labor Senator Kristina Keneally has made headlines recently with her opposition to the Australian CPAC conference, to be held in Sydney this weekend. Firstly, she campaigned for one of the conference speakers, Raheem Kassan, to be refused entry to Australia. In an interview today, she called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to condemn the conference, and claimed that it would disseminate dangerous “alt-right” extremism, and just days after two mass shootings in the United States, sought to link it with the National Rifle Association, which opposes restrictions on gun ownership.
I am not comfortable with the idea of governments arbitrarily shutting down individuals simply because they disagree with their ideas. It would be far better to let their ideas be discussed and debated openly by the Australian public. As former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson, one of the speakers at the conference wrote, that is how a healthy democracy is supposed to work. In a truly free society,
“… all members of the public enjoy the same standing and dignity, and so have the right to freely express their convictions, seek answers to questions asked in good faith, and expect that all will listen with respect to the responses to those questions. Such a process is the best way to establish good policy because it ensures that ideas rather than their proponents are in focus.”
I went to hear you speak at a public forum once, Senator. It was not long after you left office as Premier of New South Wales, and you shared the stage with the controversial philosopher, Peter Singer. From what I know of your political, economic, and theological views, there’s not much that I agree with, but I wanted to hear what you and Singer had to say regardless. None of your or Singer’s opponents tried to have this event cancelled. Can we not extend the same courtesy to the CPAC conference? Let people attend and engage with the ideas presented without unnecessary governmental interference.
As Kurt Mahlburg recently wrote on this blog,
“If we truly value freedom for ourselves, this means defending it for others—even when that makes us uneasy or offended. The ability to tolerate and even love people with views wildly different than ours is good for them, good for us, and good for society.”
This sounds like a mature, sensible approach to dealing with these matters. I don’t need to be protected from ideas that offend me, Senator Keneally. Nor, dare I suggest, do the majority of the people of Australia.