free speech

Former US intelligence analyst turned whistle-blower and activist Chelsea Manning will speak via satellite from Auckland to audiences in Melbourne and Brisbane, following the Australian government's refusal to issue her with a visa on character grounds.

While the debate on free speech has largely focused on the "rights" of racists and bigots, federal and state governments have been quietly passing new laws that strip citizens of the freedom of speech that is essential to democratic deliberation.

Sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act — the law against racial vilification — are under renewed attack from the right. These attacks have the backing of Rupert Murdoch's media empire and the support of the federal government, which has announced a parliamentary inquiry to determine whether this law imposes unreasonable limits on free speech and recommend whether the law should be changed.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act — Australia’s federal hate speech law — has tended to dominate public debate about free speech for the past few years. This has meant other important laws that restrict free speech in broad ways are being overlooked.

While the 18C debate has raged, important new restrictions on freedom of speech have been introduced in Australia. These have flown much further under the radar. These restrictions should concern us, because they have a wide-ranging impact on the freedom of speech that is essential to democratic deliberation.

The Labor Party has backed federal government legislation that will, in some circumstances, force Australian internet service providers (ISPs) to block their customers from accessing certain online services.

Labor and Coalition senators passed the Copyright Amendment (Online Infringement) Bill 2015 on June 22, with the Greens and a number of other cross-bench senators voting against the legislation.

Perth activist Kamala Emanuel won a resounding victory on May 28 in an important court case addressing the right to protest.

Emanuel was charged with failing to comply with a police move-on notice that was issued during a protest rally against fracking in April last year. Emanuel did not dispute that she refused to comply with the move-on order but argued in court that the move-on notice was invalid.

Geert Wilders called off his February 20 public meeting in Perth after the hotel where he was going to speak cancelled his booking.

Organisers of Wilders' tour tried to claim that protesters had intimidated the hotel and implied that Wilders' "free speech'' was threatened as people were "denied'' the chance to hear Wilders talk.

Wilders' most prominent supporter in the Australian parliament — disgraced Liberal senator Cory Bernardi — also tried to claim that there was "free speech double standard" involved.

In an attempt to avoid anti-racist protesters, the February 18 meeting to launch the Australian speaking tour of Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders, was, at the last moment, moved to a desolate, non-residential part of Somerton on Melbourne’s northern edge. More than 200 anti-racists, however, picketed Wilders’ meeting while another 100 protested in Melbourne CBD, where one of the speakers was Greens Senator Richard Di Natale.

On October 27 a public meeting at Brunswick Town Hall discussed "public space vs. market place".

University of Melbourne lecturer David Nichols discussed the design of modern shopping centres, which discouraged people from gathering in groups even for informal discussion.

Victorian branch secretary of the Rail Tram and Bus Union Trevor Dobbyn spoke of his experiences in the struggle for the right to march in Queensland in the 1970s — a struggle in which thousands were arrested.

A huge police crackdown on protesters at the June 26-27 G20 Summit in Toronto last week ended in the arrests of hundreds of primarily peaceful activists. Canadian group Socialist Project issued this statement on June 30 in solidarity with the protesters targeted by police. It is reprinted from The Bullet.

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The massive police presence in Toronto over this week has been officially justified on the basis of protecting the leaders of the G8 and G20 countries meeting in Huntsville and Toronto.

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