Free speech isn’t free, you have to fight for it

The federal government is trying to enforce a ban on union signage — including symbols — on construction sites.

The purpose of the Turnbull government is to clear every obstacle it can to help big business maximise its profits.

No environmental protection or social good is too important to be sacrificed for this goal. No surprise then that they are trying to cripple freedom of expression. For them, the more people are ignorant, confused and in fear the better.

Take these three assaults on our ability to analyse and criticise their actions.

In December, the government introduced into parliament the Electoral Legislation Amendment (Electoral Funding and Disclosure Reform) Bill 2017. The government has made it clear that the legislation is designed to target organisations like GetUp! that “actively seek to influence the outcome of elections through their campaigning activities”.

Essentially any kind of commentary or advocacy by a charity or non-government organisation on any social issue of importance would be captured by legislation and see these organisations defined as political actors.

It would restrict their ability to receive foreign donations, and impose huge and impractical compliance costs, such as requiring them to get a statutory declaration signed and witnessed by a justice of the peace for even quite small donations.

Meanwhile, the ability of corporations to make huge donations to political parties would remain untouched.

Also, using the language of “combating foreign influence”, the government wants changes to national security laws that could see journalists and whistleblowers jailed for up to 20 years. This is a ten-fold increase in the maximum penalty for anyone who communicates or “deals with” information which could potentially “cause harm to Australia’s interests”, where that information is obtained via a government official without authorisation. It should already be obvious that in their mouths “Australia’s interest” doesn't mean the Australian people but corporate profits.

To cap it off the Turnbull government is now trying to enforce a ban on all union symbols from appearing anywhere on construction sites, including on the hats or clothing of workers. Not just the actual name or logo of a union, but any “signs, markings or indications”, including the Eureka flag.

It’s not enough that for them that the right to strike effectively no longer exists in Australia in breach of our commitments to the International Labour Organisation (a UN agency), whereas bosses remain at liberty to lockout workers without so much as a squeak from the misnamed Fair Work Australia.

Just like our rights at work, the elements of free speech that we have traditionally enjoyed in Australia had to be fought for, tooth and nail. The corporations and their servants in parliament will always seek to attack our rights, conditions and natural environment in lock-step with their attack on free speech and civil liberties. It’s part of the same agenda, for them and for us.

Free speech is not free, and if you don’t use it you lose it.

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