Doing it wrong: Peter Van Onselen, free speech and Australia Day

I’m surprised that the climate change lot haven’t kidnapped Peter Van Onselen.

He’s so chock full of that warm inner glow of moral righteousness, hypocrisy and smarmy new age smugness that I’m sure that if it could be bottled it would power several smaller countries (or even a larger one at that) without burning any fossil fuels at all.

Unfortunately, it would also come with a toxic dose of hot air. So, unfortunately, the effect on global warming would probably be negligible.

Anyway, in the lead up to Australia Day, he penned this self-righteous statement in The Australian:

Free speech is important, so much so that opponents of Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act want it amended to allow humiliating and intimidating rhetoric to prevail. But many of those same free speech warriors now want to shut down debate about whether Australia Day should move to another date.

That can’t be right, can it? Hairy-chested defenders of free speech turning into shrinking violets offended by heady debate over a change of date for our national day? Is the idea really so controversial that even indigenous advocates for change shouldn’t dare speak of such things?

Pete loves nothing more than sticking the boot into the anti-18c crowd.

And over Australia Day he thought he found a chink in their armour. Apparently, it was a debate ‘free speech’ warriors were trying to ‘shut down’.

I’ve seen no evidence of that. But I’m going to assume that what Peter means by this is that some of us have said that we don’t want the date shifted. As a result, it appears that PVO has concluded that we’re ‘stifling’ debate.

So he jumped in headfirst with his ridiculous diatribe.

But if Peter was really interested in the debate over free speech and if he was really interested in a debate about Australia Day and the broader issues relating to those with Aboriginal ancestry, rather than just searching for his next dose of feel good moral vanity, he might stop for a second to consider:

  1. You can burn the Australian flag and 18c won’t do anything.
  2. You can burn an Aboriginal flag and 18c will.

Indeed, you don’t even have to burn an Aboriginal flag at all to cop the wrath of 18c.

All you have to do is say something that is deemed offensive by an Aboriginal activist. Van Onselen would do well to remember the wrath faced by his fellow contributor to The Australian, Bill Leak.

Further, burning flags is not really the best example to use. Peter might get the idea that I’m somehow building a shadowy army equipped with lighters and ladders.

For the record, I’m not. Here’s a better scenario.

  1. If you decline an invitation to attend the workplace Australia Day function, 18c and associated laws will protect you from discriminatory ‘retribution’.
  2. But if you refuse to take part in the now obligatory ‘Welcome to Country’ ceremony, these same laws will allow you to be sacked, denigrated and dragged before a Commissar of the Thought Police to answer charges of racial hatred.

So in these circumstances it’s a risky business to enter into the debate over Australia Day unless you have pale black skin.

Oops. Did I just say that?

The ‘debate’ that Peter’s so lovingly jeered is not a free debate at all, precisely because of laws like 18c.

On one side, there are those who are calling for this nation to be burnt to the ground. This is not merely rhetoric. It actually incites violent and destructive behaviour, promoting vandalism of our nation’s heritage.

Captain Cook

Vandalised statue of Captain Cook in Melbourne in the lead up to Australia Day.

And on the other side are those who seek to preserve our nation’s history and recognise the achievements of the past (which, I might add, include the achievements of Aboriginal people).

But it is hard for the latter side to properly argue their case. They cannot really speak freely about the benefits of settlement for Aboriginal people because it implies that there were limitations within Aboriginal society prior to settlement.

These implications, whether spoken or unspoken, are exactly the kind of ideas that laws like 18c silences.

And they are increasingly forced to participate in made up ceremonies celebrating the ‘repressed’ culture and spirituality of Aboriginal activists, even if they don’t want to.

If you can’t even make a comment about the segregationary nature of Aboriginal-only computer rooms without being dragged before a court, it’s gonna be kind of risky to even speak about flaws in Aboriginal culture or the problems facing some dysfunctional communities today.

These are the issues that 18c opponents want to discuss openly and freely. They are part of the backdrop of the ‘debate’ around Australia Day and this nation’s past, present and future.

We certainly are not interested in vile abuse. And 18c has not stopped that anyway. Indeed, because of the inherently hypocritical nature of these laws, they actually protect racist speech.

A court ruling has determined that 18c is not designed to silence vile statements made against ‘white people’.

That’s why the face of the ‘burn Australia to the ground’ mob can say this:

And that’s why the tribe she fronts can say this:

Because 18c is designed to protect racist speech from one mob and to prosecute reasoned arguments from the other, it is rubbish for grand-standing new age moralists to claim that proponents of free-speech are trying to shut down debate over Australia Day.

Because of 18c there has been no real debate at all. It’s time Peter Van Onselen acknowledged that.

*****

Oh yeah, when he comes to discussing Australia Day and free speech, PVO he might like to reflect on news reported in the Herald Sun today that the City of Yarra has banned workers from even using the phrase ‘Australia Day’:,

THE CITY of Yarra has banned its 1000 employees, ­including childcare workers, ­librarians, and gardeners, from even uttering the words “Australia Day”.

A January 15 bulletin from council chief executive Vijaya Vaidyanath directed staff to refer to Australia Day as “the January 26 public holiday” when talking to the public.

“Council made a resolution to change the way we mark our national day on January 26,’’ her bulletin said.

“This includes no longer referring to this date as Australia Day.

“All staff are asked to use the words ‘January 26 public holiday’ rather than ‘Australia Day public holiday’ when notifying clients or customers of the opening hours of their service or centre on this day.”

 

Author: Bernard Gaynor

Bernard Gaynor is a married father of eight children. He has a background in military intelligence, Arabic language and culture and is an outspoken advocate of conservative and family values.

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