Free Speech

Offend someone? Go directly to jail.

Bertrand Russell said, “Do not use power to suppress opinions you think pernicious, for if you do the opinions will suppress you.” However, this is exactly what is happening in Australia today. Speech deemed to be pernicious has been suppressed, most notoriously through 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act. However, this is not the only or most concerning of these restrictions.

There is a lesser known, and more insidious law in Australia involving giving offence that is even more troubling than 18C. It is s474.17 of the Criminal Code Act which deems it a criminal offence to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. You may recognize it as the piece of legislation used to lay charges against Chris Nelson, the chiropractor from NSW, for racist and hateful comments he made to former Senator Nova Peris on her Facebook page, and many would argue that this was Read the rest


Bans on political donations threaten our democracy

Imagine for a moment that you’re the managing director of a mining company. You have a project that has met all the legal hurdles raised by the Government, however, now imagine your project is in jeopardy, an environmental activist group have been using litigation to delay your project in the courts, Leonardo DiCaprio has flown down in his private jet to condemn your destruction of the planet, and they are using crowdfunding to pay for advertising targeting your project. These same activists are actively supporting the election of anti-development candidate to political office. What do you do? Do you support an alternative candidate that shares your belief in the economic benefits of your project and is actively campaigning for it? I would. However, this is exactly the kind of expression of free speech Labor and the Greens have opportunistically proposed banning in the wake of the Sam Dastyari affair –along … Read the rest


Free speech? Shut up and drink your hemlock!

When Socrates was tried and executed by his fellow Athenians, his speech was found to be outside the acceptable realm tolerated by his polis’ democracy. He was found guilty of heresy. While the Athenians had significant freedom of speech, it was not absolute, it was freedom both granted and taken away by the city state. After losing the Peloponnesian war, the Athenians searched for someone or something to blame. Socrates challenging of cultural norms through socratic questioning was deemed unacceptable and as a result Socrates was executed by being required to drink hemlock. 

Chris Berg explains in the first chapter of his book, In Defence of Freedom of Speech” the difference between freedom of speech that is granted by the State (such as in Ancient Athens) and freedom of speech that is a right (Such as in Ancient Rome). The difference is significant, in Ancient Athens freedom of Read the rest