Passing Bull 101 – Willing offenders and insulters


Tim Wilson and David Leyonhjelm are like little boys caught playing with matches.  Having spruiked their own bullshit, and having backed the Murdoch press in its claims for more power over you and me, they now find that they have burnt their fingers.  Their targets have exercised their right to free speech, and what do you think is the result of that kind of democracy in action?  The greedy ratbags – a lot of them bloody foreigners – want to widen the law and make life tougher for people like Andrew Bolt and Pauline Hanson.

Now, I, in common with most other people, am bored stiff by a debate that looks to have only one side and is going nowhere – except to help the ALP at the next election.  But some of the sulky bullshit unloaded today by Wilson and Leyonhjelm – two exercises in inanity sponsored by you and me – require an answer.

To recapitulate – the law seeks to preserve our freedoms; but my freedom stops when you get hurt.  We make laws against insulting and offending people in public for two reasons – that conduct can hurt people, and our law is involved in limiting our capacity to hurt others, and that kind of behaviour can lead to fights or worse, and the first object of the law is to preserve the peace. It adds nothing to say that such a law restricts freedom of speech – it doesn’t even illuminate the relevant issue – which is whether the restriction is warranted.

So, if one man approaches another man in the street with his wife and says ‘You are a coward and a poofter and your wife is a slut’, the police must have the right to intervene immediately.  That’s always been the law and it always will be.

If the culprit claimed that his freedom of speech was being infringed, he would risk an adverse reaction from both the wallopers and the stipes.  People would think he was mad.  And you would hardly be thought to be any saner if you suggested that the law should be changed so that the police could not intervene unless the infringement could be described as ‘harassment.’  We don’t want to burden our police with fine judgments in rough houses that they have coped with for centuries.

None of this has anything to do with race or religion.  It is an accident of our legal history that our Commonwealth Parliament made a law about offending or insulting people on the ground of race.  Our state laws have always been adequate on the general law – of course those laws apply to insults or offence offered on the ground of race or religion. To do so on either basis only makes the underlying offence so much worse.  The conduct is more hurtful, and more likely to start a fight.

Those who have been arguing to restrict the federal law never mention the state law.  This is because they don’t know about it or because they are so driven ideologically that their thinking is warped.

But it is not surprising that people who value the protection of both federal and state laws should think of seeking to extend that protection in light of the sustained campaigns to reduce them.  So, a federal MP suggested that the federal law be extended to cover misconduct on the ground of religion as well as race.  She has an obvious point.  ‘You’re a dirty Muslim’ is at least as harmful and dangerous as ‘You’re a dirty Arab.’  Both of course are unlawful under our existing state law, but Wilson either doesn’t know or has forgotten that fact – which renders the rest of the discussion academic, or, as they say in the U S, moot.

But Wilson goes in with the roistering debating skills of a high school student.  He says this would be a law on blasphemy.  Just as he said the present law is one of censorship.  Well, we do have a law of blasphemy, but you don’t deal with an argument by pinning a label on it.  What is the answer to the question of the MP?

Then Wilson offers us some gratuitous legal advice.  He opines that arguments about s 18 D, the defence under which made the Leak controversy so dishonest, are ‘fallacious’.   His legal arguments are as good as my diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Then he descends into the political ad hominem dustbin by talking of pandering to ‘victimhood.’  The IPA crowd are scarred for life.  He accuses Mark Dreyfus QC, who at least knows what he is talking about, of ‘hypocritical incoherence’, but in doing so, he gets lost in his own labels.  He may, though, be able to detect perhaps an iota of hypocrisy in contending that the present law offends freedom of speech, but a law based on harassment would not.

Unfortunately, the Leyonhjelm piece is worse than stupid.  He is worried not about religion, but ethnic groups.

The debate over S 18C is much greater than free speech. It is, in fact, a fight for the votes of people who have different values from those of traditional Australia. Instead of embracing the values of their adopted country, these ethnic, religious and immigrant representatives want Australia to become more like the countries they left behind….

After World War II, immigrants who arrived in Australia either abandoned their historic grievances or chose not to share them with others. Millions of post-war immigrants from dozens of countries integrated, assimilated and did their best to become true-blue Aussies. For their part, Australians welcomed these immigrants as ‘‘New Australians’’ and embraced their food, music and dance….

 The fact that leaders of immigrant, ethnic and religious groups are now flexing their political muscle in pursuit of different values is a major concern. Not only does it threaten traditional liberal values, it fuels opposition to immigration among the community and gives credence to demands to block certain types of immigrants.

This is obnoxious bullshit. ‘Traditional liberal values’ presumably relate to ‘Western civilisation’, and can you imagine anything worse than spending a night with ‘true-blue Aussies’.  Like members of federal parliament?  In Othello, we find this exchange:

Brabantio: Thou art a villain.

Iago: You are a senator.

Leyonhjelm refers to some history and to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  He doesn’t say that our laws are justified in the exceptions to the right to freedom of expression in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights. That right is expressly subject to ‘such… restrictions or penalties prescribed by law and… are necessary in a democratic society…for the prevention of disorder or crime.’

Nor does he refer to the Declaration of the Rights of Man of 1789.

Liberty consists of the power to do whatever does not hurt others….The law has the right to forbid only actions that are harmful to society….No one is to be disturbed because of his opinions, even religious, provided that their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.

Quite by chance I’m reading Germaine Greer on Shakespeare and I find this.


We no longer feel, as Shakespeare’s contemporaries did, the ubiquity of Satan, but Iago is still serviceable to us as an objective correlative to the mindless inventiveness of racist aggression.  Iago is still alive and kicking and filling migrants’ letter boxes with excrement.

From about 1596 to 1986 – these things don’t change.

So, it is bullshit as usual for these two very ordinary politicians, but one is more obnoxious than the other.  We should have heard the last of ‘freedom of speech’ in this context, but our weak Prime Minister has now climbed into the same basket as Andrew Bolt and Pauline Hanson.

And on that sainted day when these heroic freedom fighters finally achieve emancipation, after they give their feu de joie, who will be the first they insult or offend on the ground of race?

Confucius says:

The Master said, ‘I suppose I should give up hope, I have yet to meet the man who is as fond of virtue as he is of beauty in women’.

Analects, 15.13

The Master said, ‘If one sets strict standards for oneself and makes allowances for others, when making demands on them, one will stay clear of ill will’.

Analects, 15.15

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