In the fight to preserve our right to free speech, the legacy of the late Glenister Fermoy (Thumpa) Sheil is sadly overlooked; Shiel was a rabbit farmer and Australian senator whose unfashionable views on racial separation, fearlessly expressed, made him the shortest-serving minister in Australia. Two days of notoriety in 1977 overshadowed Sheil’s other contributions to civic debate, which is a pity, because Thumpa might have been an old fashioned, straight talking Okker but he was that most endangered of all political species, a man who stuck to his principles. Over the course of his 13 years in Australia’s federal parliament, Senator Shiel was a beacon of common sense shining from atop a mountain of steaming bullshit.
Thumpa’s finest hour came when Gough Whitlam’s Labor government tabled the Racial Discrimination Bill in 1975. The conservative opposition was preparing to bring down Whitlam’s government by vetoing the budget but was too cowardly to back its instincts and block Australia’s first human-rights legislation.
It was left to Thumpa, and a handful of other courageous or crazy senators, to question the bill’s constitutional validity and its threat to free expression. Only Thumpa and his backbench chums were prepared to defend the reputation of the Australian people, impugned by the tabling of legislation designed to cleanse society of ingrained racism.
‘The passage of this bill would take some fundamental rights away from us, such as the right of free speech, free discussion and publication, Thumpa said, addressing parliament during the bill’s second reading speech. ‘Far from eliminating racial discrimination by making it illegal, the bill will highlight the problems between the races and create an official race-relations industry with a staff of dedicated anti-racists earning their living by making the most of every complaint in much the same way as does the Race Relations Board in the United Kingdom.’
‘This bill’, Thumpa continued, ‘will create yet another large and expensive federal government department. It will be headed by a race-relations commissioner with the status of a High Court judge and with powers similar to those used in the Spanish Inquisition.’
Cue three Pythonesque Cardinals — “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.”
Thumpa’s speech was dismissed as ‘Neanderthal grunts’ by Labour MPs, but today his predictions appear to have been uncannily accurate. He was getting ahead of himself with the line about the Spanish Inquisition, however; that would require another legislative adventure in the form of the Racial Vilification Act 1996 — a pernicious assault on personal freedom that the UK’s Politically Correct Thought Police would not catch up with until Harriet Harperson’s (Hattie’s name is Harman but we have to be PC) Equalities Bill in 2009. Harman’s bill, you may remember, states that if a person of racial, religious or other minority hears something they feel is offensive then the person who uttered the remark is guilty, no trial, no plea of mitigation admissible, a medieval witch hunt or religious inquisition style of justice in fact.
The Australian Racial Vilification Act was the legislation which newspaper columnist Andrew Bolt was found to have broken in 2011 by suggesting that the rules for claiming Aboriginal identity are not exactly black and white.
That flawed and illiberal hate law bill, and numerous other audacious acts of human-rights mission creep, went through virtually on the nod. Astute MPs on both sides of parliament were aware of its illiberal implications, but only the principled (or some would say insane) like Thumpa were prepared to stand firm in the path of the human-rights bandwagon in a full and self righteous charge .
In the novel On the Beach, Neville Shute painted Australia as a good place to escape a nuclear war, but that was in the 1950s when Australia was populated by brash, self-confident, pragmatic, dow no earth types who weren’t afraid to shovel shit for a living if it paid well, rather than the effete poseurs who have taken over now. Since then people of this distant island continent have been unable to avoid infection from the plague of self righteousness, moral virtue and politically correct sissification that took hold in the 1970s, and gained strength as a tool with which to shame the Soviet bloc into capitulation where conventional weapons had failed. Not all Australians, not even a majority but enough and in the right sectors of society were more concerned with what the world thought about them than in getting on with doing what needed to be done.
A good place to escape nuclear holocaust but not Politically correct tyranny.
The human rights is industry now a multimillion-dollar, government-funded concern in Australia and throughout the developed world, just as Thumpa Shiel predicted. There Australia now has nine official human rights agencies (QUANGOs or Quasi Autonomous Non — Governmental Organisations), one at a federal level and one for every state and territory, each employing a large staff of tax eaters living off the public purse and helping whingers and malcontents pursue petty claims of discrimination against housing department officers, shopkeepers and nightclub bouncers.
It is par for the course when these cases come to court (usually a tribunal with three professional race hustlers on the bench rather than a court of law where people are tried by a jury of their peers,) that the complainant will be compensated more generously for their hurt feelings that a soldier in a theatre of conflict will receive for the loss of a limb.
Britain has more than its share of petty, nit picking race — relations and human rights cases so I will not catalogue many of Australia’s, however cases concerning a department-store Santa in South Australia, who claimed discrimination on the ground of a disability when the store manager asked him to remove his glasses, or the Queensland public servant of Indian descent who took umbrage when offered a cup of black tea are classics and deserve a mention.
It seemed that until late last year, Australia as we know it would eventually disappear under this rising tide of sanctimony. The federal government’s new Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill, claimed to merely consolidate rights but which in effect brazenly expanded them, looked set to sail through parliament on the winds of moral virtue, with attorney general Nicola Roxon at the bow as Celine Dion singing ‘My Heart Will Go On’ plays on a loop over the PA system.
But somewhere the spirit of Thumpa Shiel was stirring. Quietly at first, but with a swelling, indignant chorus, respectable Australians of unimpeachable character began howling down Roxon’s bill. The contrivance of describing race, gender, sexual orientation, disability or 14 other grounds for victimhood as ‘protected attributes’ was a politically correct nonsense too far; the inclusion of industrial history, breastfeeding or pregnancy or social origin in the list of things that could not be mentioned suggested overkill — and effectively the abolition of conversation in Australia, nobody would have dared say anything about anything without risking prosecution; the reversal of that most basic of the principles of Anglo Saxon justice — presumption of innocent until proved guilty, obliging alleged racists, misogynists and wheelchair kickers to do the impossible and prove a negative by demonstrating their innocence, was too much for Aussies to swallow.
Jim Spigelman, a lawyer of some standing, voiced his concerns about the outcome of a high profile case. ‘I am not aware of any international human-rights instrument or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy that extends to conduct which is merely offensive’, Mr Spigelman said. ‘We would be pretty much on our own in declaring conduct which does no more than offend to be unlawful. The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech.’
Ms Roxon has now stepped down, not ostensibly over the bill, although the unexpected controversy may have strengthened her desire to spend more time with her family. It is unlikely to be resurrected: Australia’s Carbon Fascist political establishment has too many challenges on its plate, including the one of finding a government capable of staying in power long enough to actually get anything done, to want to fight a battle that will enshrine in the Australian constitution the principle of presumption of guilt. Incredibly, Gillard was replaced by a member of her own left wing government within a few months as her politically correct policies proved toxic to voters. The conservative opposition (called The Liberals, Australia is quirky like that,) did eventually muscle up for a fight and Tony (Budgie Smuggler) Abbot became Prime Minister and the Austrialian government was ready to pick a fight: the one it should have picked in 1975 when the cowards abandoned Thumpa Shiel and again 20 years later.
It should be noted before the children start shouting “racism,” noted the human rights defined in the Roxon’s bill would have superseded the most important right of all in a democratic society: the right to free speech. Political opinion would become a ‘protected attribute’ he speculated. Professor Triggs was quick to add: ‘We would like to make the point that not all political opinion is protected. The right is not absolute; it is subject to certain constraints, most particularly along the lines of broad principles of reasonableness and good faith.’ And so it is, what many Americans do not seem to understand about the constitution’s clause on free speech is it does not confer the right to say anything we like: inciting violent or criminal behaviour is forbidden under other laws, and it is easy enough to argue a political case without saying, for example: “Anyone who does not agree should be thrown into prison.” Or, “If you don’t agree with me I’ll kick your head in.”
Roxon’s successor Professor Triggs commented: ‘If the person putting the political view in a work context is doing so in a way that amounts to some form of harassment of somebody in that workforce, and the employer says, “You’re upsetting my employees; you’re doing this so consistently and so insultingly that you’re disrupting the workplace, and I’m going to sack you”, the question then might be: has this person been discriminated against on the grounds of their political opinion?’
So the question (for the courts, not political inquisitors,) should be: “Is the argument being put in a reasonable and respectful mannerm (not necessarily respecting the point of view, but respecful of the person holding it,) or is it being put in an aggressive, intimidating or harassing way.
Senator Brandis, who like Thumpa comes from Queensland, a rural and deeply conservative state, was not happy to leave it at that. ‘Are you telling me that the judiciary or some other decision-maker will then sit in judgment and say, “Your political opinion is not reasonable and therefore it is not a protected attribute”? I upset people every day in the course of my job by expressing political opinions, ‘and rightly so, because that is what pluralism and democracy mean’.
Ah, said Professor Triggs, we are protecting the right to hold opinions; it is their inappropriate expression that had the propensity to offend. If the expression of opinions conflicted with another aim — public order, for example, or the maintenance of a civilized workplace — then ‘in the end, decision makers will have to put limits on free speech’.
Decision makers, limits; these are the kind of weasel words the politically correct left hide their prejudices behind, words that turn language upside down, disembowel it and strip it of all reasonable meaning, this is the language of the solipsist, word can mean just what the speaker wants them to mean and may change meaning from moment to moment. This is the bullshit that made Thumpa Shiel’s principled plain speaking shine out in the darkness.
Senator Brandis continued: ‘Suppose that in, say, a lunchroom in a workplace… there are vigorously held and different views, some workers express an opinion among themselves but in front of another worker, and the worker who hears the opinion finds it extremely offensive and disturbing… Should the capacity to express political opinions — unwelcome to their auditor — be constrained?’
‘I believe it can be, and ought to be, constrained, where the behaviour ultimately becomes harassment — if you want to use that word’, replied the professor. ‘We may get it wrong; the courts may get it wrong. But I think the critical point is to accept that nobody is there objecting to the holding of the political view; the objection is to the effect of that political view or the manner in which it is delivered.’
Unlike political opinion, attributes like age or gender or sexuality are objective facts. They did not have to be demonstrated. As Senator Brandis pointed out: ‘There is no imperative for a 45-year-old man to go around saying, “I’m 45”. That does not happen.’ (Similarly there is no reason for homosexual men to go around saying “I’m gay” but they seem to think it is their right to do so and anyone offended by such behaviour would be ill advised to take their complaint to law in the current climate,) Political opinion, however, means nothing unless it is expressed.
Brandis went on ‘I do not know if you are familiar with Czeslaw Milosz’s work The Captive Mind, or Arthur Koestler’s book Darkness At Noon… The whole point of political freedom is that there is an imperishable conjunction between the right to hold the opinion and the right to express the opinion. That is why political censorship is so evil — not because it prohibits us holding an opinion but because it prohibits us articulating the opinion that we hold.”
“We all agree that there is no law in Australia that says you cannot have a particular opinion. We all agree that there are certain laws in Australia, including defamation laws, that limit the freedom of speech. My contention is that there should not, in a free society, be laws that prohibit the expression of an opinion… This attempt to say, “Holding an opinion is one thing but expressing an opinion is quite different”, is terribly dangerous in a liberal democratic politic.”
Thumpa, for all his faults, would have understood this point. Australia’s Politically Correct Though Police, evidently, do not.
Secret Justice Threatens The Right To A Fair Trial