Civil Liberty is slowly but surely building contacts across the world, particularly in Europe, North America and the Antipodes.
Today, our contacts in Australia are very keen to establish a Civil Liberty franchise organisation and attract like-minded supporters in Australia concerned by the issues that concern us here in the British Isles and Europe and are increasingly becoming matters of great concern in their part of the world as well.
As our main contact in Australia said:
‘It’s not a Left/Right thing……it’s a Free/Unfree thing’!
And the only thing that can beat us is our complacency when thinking about and discussing the many challenges that we both face on our opposite sides of the world.
After discussing the state of free speech in Australia with some eminent colleagues, this was the word that popped up the most. As a nation that has inherited the British democratic system we take the presumption of innocence and a degree of free speech for granted. Combined with the larrikin attitude born of our colonial past, it has ensured that up until recently we could count on being able to speak our minds on most things.
Whilst free speech and personal freedom are still generally in good health in Australia, there is a growing tide of political correctness and spurious litigation that is concerning. The fact is that Australia has changed a great deal, very quickly, and this has brought with it new social challenges. Australia has the highest per capita immigration rate of any OECD country. Over 280 nationalities call Australia home now, whereas in 1969 over 95% of citizens were of Anglo-Celtic heritage. Back then the nation was arguably the world’s most prosperous and things like murder and hard drugs were almost unheard of. Today we have the food, culture and diversity of the global village, along with all that comes with it. Whilst most people who come to Australia integrate well, it is also true that some ethnic groups have prompted the formation of specialist crime units in law enforcement agencies. And it is clear that not everyone accepts Australian laws and values – some seem intent upon changing them to fit in with their own ideologies. There is no doubt that these issues have led to some divisions and criticism of Australia’s social policies.
This is one area where freedom of speech is under threat. Voltaire’s old formulation that it is vital to defend free expression, even if one disagrees with what is being expressed, goes out the window when it comes to discussions of multiculturalism. The multicultural lobby sees any mention of problems as being an attack on the whole edifice and reacts with well directed ad hominen attacks. This has led to a degree of polarisation that has stymied any kind of sensible debate.
But creeping political correctness has not just co opted the big issues of social policy. It seems to be on the march everywhere, incrementally changing our language and redefining what we are ‘allowed’ to say. In academic circles there seems to be an all pervading concern for causing ‘offence’ with a resulting lack of willingness to present opinions of any kind. At a local government level pale bureaucrats fall over themselves to pander to the whims of minority interests, even if by doing so it proves divisive to the wider community, the ‘rules’ of political correctness being based on the Orwellian hypocrisy that some animals are indeed much more important than others.
The fact that both the Left and the Right complain of the other trying to stifle free speech speaks volumes. Once it has gone it affects everyone. No one wins. This is the challenge Australia must now face. Whilst anti vilification laws have a place in trying to quell unwarranted and unjustified attacks, we must get the balance right and ensure that legitimate debate is always allowed, even if we find the viewpoints being expressed contrary to our own.
Please contact Civil Liberty UK for further information about the launch of Civil Liberty Australia and what you can do to help!