Friday, 23 June 2017

Freedom for speech, the press, truck drivers and porn

Without a bill of rights to protect us Australians are vulnerable to the tyranny of politicians who make our laws. Though as our country is a healthy democracy with low levels of corruption, we tend to trust that our government will make laws that will not unnecessarily take away our freedom and if they try, we can vote them out.

And tyranny, really? Do we really need this eternal vigilance against an oppressive regime – this isn't bloody North Korea. But in recent times there have been serious assaults on our freedom in this country and while you may have forgotten them, I have not. And I don't mean by Human Rights Commissioners or social justice warriors but by elected politicians.

Back in 2007 the Rudd Labour government tried to censor the internet in the same way the Democratic Republic of North Korea does by blacklisting websites they considered offensive. Costing upwards of $60 million of taxpayer's money, the secret blacklist of banned websites was initially proposed to counter child pornography and benignly described as a 'filter' by then Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, who later admitted that it would also target “other unwanted content”.

As the US State Department was mounting a diplomatic assault on internet censorship worldwide, the Obama administration condemned the Australian government's blacklist, along with those of Iran, China, Cuba and good old North Korea.

When Wikileaks rode to the rescue and published the secret list, only half were child pornography the other half being online poker, YouTube links, gay and straight porn, Wikipedia entries, euthanasia sites, websites of fringe religions and mysteriously - links to a boarding kennel and a dentist.

The Liberal / National Coalition in opposition seemed to warm to the idea so long as it did not affect Internet speeds and commerce. So it was thanks to opposition from the Greens, and Fiona Patten's Australian Sex Party that the plan was finally dumped in 2012. Good thing too as it is generally held that the ultimate aim was to censor all pornography to secure the votes of the Australian Christian Lobby.

In that same year the Labour / Greens coalition government tried to censor the media in a way that both Trump and Putin would have cheered - the first peacetime government to attempt restricting press freedom since censorship was abolished in NSW in 1823.

Then Greens leader and Deputy PM Bob Brown fired the first shot at the free press when he described News Limited newspapers as the "hate media".

PM Julia Gillard convened an inquiry into media regulation and report concluded the Australian media was 'failing the public interest'. It recommended a new government funded regulator, the News Media Council, with the power to make findings against journalists and without a course of appeal. Those who disobeyed the council would face fines or imprisonment. This censor would even have power over online sites that get 15,000 hits a year which these days is just about every half decent blogger in the country (except me).

This brilliant idea became the Public Interest Media Advocate Bill 2013 that would regulate Australian media mergers and acquisitions as well as journalists and publishers by way of regulating the Australian Press Council.

It failed to get up - not because the opposition rejected it on the grounds of press freedom but because the crossbench found it unworkable. But it was damn close.

In 2012 the same Labour government tried to censor our speech. Attorney-General Nicola Roxon was feeling frisky following her stunning victory over Big Tobacco. Fancy packaging of cigarettes was a thing of the past so naturally freedom of speech should be next to go.

Chillingly claiming that her Discrimination Consolidation Bill would "help everyone understand what behaviour is expected", her proposed legislation sought to make any conduct that 'offends, insults or intimidates' into unlawful discrimination.

The proposed law would have reversed the burden of proof so that the offended one didn't have to provide evidence that someone offended them, the offender must instead prove that they did not. And that would be tough as there was to be no reasonable person test and discrimination was redefined as "unfavourable treatment" of a person. Ways you could discriminate against a person include their “social background”, of which there was no definition.

That's right – anything you do or say to anyone anywhere - if it offends someone they can take you to court and free of charge too (well actually compliments of the Australian taxpayer).

Amazingly but not, this dystopian future hyper nanny state nonsense was initially championed by the notorious Gillian Triggs of the Human Rights Commission who later backed away from it as ridicule poured from all sides.

Roxon resigned. Triggs did not.

And just last year you might remember how big government tried to end the free market in the transport industry by regulating self-employed truck drivers into submission or death, whichever came first.

Set up by Labour leader Bill Shorten in 2012, the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal sought to shut down owner drivers by fixing the rates that their customers paid them to prevent the drivers from from undercutting bigger unionised companies. Failure to pay these 'Safe Rates' would result in prosecution and fines of up to $54,000 for the customer, not the truck driver.

The only way out was to quit working for yourself, sell your truck and become an employee of a big company and join the Transport Workers Union. Brilliant work, and it only took four years and God knows how much of our money to to come up with.

It would be nice to say that the Liberals leapt to the defence of the truckies and free markets, but no – consecutive Prime Ministers Abbot and Turnbull dithered until the eve of an election in 2016 before abolishing the tribunal.

All these attacks on freedom occurred in the last 10 years. All by elected politicians and funded by you and me. Imagine if all of these laws had passed - government agencies would be regulating the internet, the media, and everything you and I do and say. And having crushed the truckies under their boots – looking around for their next target. And no porn. None.

It would be easy to take the view that the Australian Labour Party is the enemy of freedom. It is true that the Liberals are unlikely to propose such laws as these while in government. But they have shown that they will consider selling out our freedom while in opposition or in any position where they can blame their colleagues on the other side of the house.

Freedom and democracy won the day over tyranny in all these cases. So you could say this is proof that our system works – and it does. But tyranny lurks there in the schemes of those who seek power over others, waiting for us to drop our guard for that crucial moment to deliver a knockout blow.

A law once made is hard to unmake - as evidenced by the reluctance and subsequent failure of the Liberal government to abolish 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act.

My brand of libertarianism is a rejection of law making as the solution to all society's evils. These examples go well beyond that - they are of laws made to do evil on our society.

Remember u r free ()

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