A gentleman by the name of Kent Heckenlively has been denied entry to Australia by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton for his ‘dangerous’ views on vaccination. Never heard of him? Not many people had until this recent ABC news report. Apparently Mr Heckenlively is an anti-vaccination advocate on a world tour, who planned to drop by and tell Australian parents that they should stop vaccinating their kids.
According to Peter Dutton, his views are ‘dangerous’ and are not in the national interest. No doubt Mr Heckenlively was planning to expound on all sorts debunked myths about how vaccinations cause autism or how measles is good for your immune system. As part of his tour, he would have visited a number of venues and spoken to groups of dyed-in-the-wool anti-vaxxers, as well as people who are just curious about vaccine dangers. He may very well have persuaded a few more people to believe, along with him, that vaccines are a health hazard.
Presumably Peter Dutton is well intentioned, and doesn’t want to see the rates of vaccination in Australia decline, and that is a noble goal. To this end, the freedom of Australians to invite a speaker of their choice to our country, and to hear him speak on a topic of their choosing has been weighed against the ‘greater good’ and found wanting. What is best for society as a whole – high rates of vaccination in the community – has been elevated above the freedoms and desires of a smaller number of individuals.
What this represents is ‘collectivist thinking’: a system of political thought that prioritises the group over the individual. We see it in action in justifications for all kinds of nanny state laws and public health campaigns. Many people would love to see the end of bicycle helmet laws for instance. Instead they are told that it is their duty to wear a helmet just in case they sustain a head injury and become a burden on the public health-care system.
Other examples are public health campaigns against smoking and alcohol consumption. These campaigns are a double edged sword that seek to not only moralise about people’s personal lifestyles choices, but to tax them heavily as well. Over-zealous and opportunistic tax collecting on the sales of tobacco and alcohol, is disguised as a moral good that benefits the community by offsetting the impact of smokers and drinkers on our already burdened health-care system.
But not everybody wants to live their lives by the edicts of public health authorities, and nor should they have to. In a free society not everyone will agree about what constitutes a good life, or a healthy life. We must respect that not 100% of people are going to vaccinate or quit smoking and binge drinking, no matter how beneficial it may be to them or the greater community. If they are not convinced or simply don’t want to, and if the greater good is prioritised over the individual, then force is the only tool left in the toolbox.
We have already seen evidence of that in our ‘No jab, no pay’ policy that twists the thumbscrews on people on low incomes in order to get them to comply with the vaccination schedule, or lose out on the Family Tax Benefit. Collectivist thinking therefore reduces liberty, as in order for the grand plan to work, individual freedom and autonomy to make decisions about one’s own health is compromised. The ban on Mr Heckenlively illustrates that even the freedom to hear dangerous ideas can be taken away, by order of big government.
What Peter Dutton may not realise is that banning a speaker like Mr Heckenlively may prove to be counterproductive. This ban and the resulting news media reports, mean that a lot more people now know who Mr Heckenlively is, and, as they say in showbiz, even bad publicity is good publicity. Many anti-vaxxers also buy into conspiracy theory narratives that tell of a collusion between the government and Big-Pharma that aims to keep us all sick. When our Immigration Minister bans big name anti-vaccination advocates from entering the country, these narratives are strengthened.
It stands to reason that only a certain percentage of Australians are open to anti-vaccination arguments. It is unlikely that a touring anti-vaccination speaker is going to have any real impact on the numbers of parents who abstain. Individual freedoms to invite and hear a speaker have once more been eroded and with probably no real effect on anti-vaccination numbers. If the aim is to prevent people being misinformed, why not instead invite Mr Heckenlively to speak with a panel of experts, and if he is indeed wrong about any claims he makes, then he will be exposed. Refusing to engage, and banning him from even entering the country, will in the eyes of some, mean that the authorities fear what he has to say, and lends his views an air of legitimacy.
On top of all that, banning or censoring dangerous ideas and speakers is an insult to ordinary people. It represents an indictment of the listener, as if to say ‘you are too obtuse and easily lead, and we’re not sure that you’ll be able to discern good information from bad.’ It is a statement on behalf of us all that, ‘Australians do not approve’ even if there is a proportion of Australians who do. It’s a glaring example of how collectivist thought can be exercised on our behalf, justified by its benefit to the greater good, while coming as it does, at the expense of every Australian’s personal liberty and freedom.
A version of this article was published at Spiked Online 6th September, 2017.