Free Speech Must Be Accountable

Australian (Sydney), Aug. 17

Over the past few weeks, Andrew Fraser, an associate professor in the department of public law at Macquarie University, has advocated his views from a number of public platforms. He has claimed, among other things, that Africans are congenitally inferior in terms of their intellectual capacity and naturally prone to violence. He has exhorted Australians to stop further African and Asian migration to Australia, as he believes this nation is at risk of what he terms “national suicide”.

In the flurry of media coverage that Fraser’s views have received, his supporters and many of his critics have sought to legitimise his views by accommodating them under the rubric of free speech. Free speech, like motherhood, is held to be one of the inalienable truths of Australian society. As a community of academics, scholars and educators, we wish to make these essential points about the ethics and limits of free speech:

* The freedom to speak is not absolute. Racism, specifically in the form of racial vilification of particular groups, is not free speech. It is proscribed by law and cannot be sanctioned in any quarter.

* Some people are freer to speak than others. Free speech is not an abstraction. In practice it is exercised by some and not by others. The freedom to speak is enjoyed by those who have access—through linguistic, educational, institutional and economic power—to the various forums that disseminate or silence our speech. Witness the number of column centimetres that Fraser and his supporters have received, in contrast to the fewer than a handful of articles in which the communities he racially vilifies have had the opportunity to respond.

It is dishonest to suggest that free speech is equally available to all. Some of us are entrusted with the ability to speak authoritatively, and to be listened to, because of the roles we occupy in society. This is why it is imperative for other academics to denounce Fraser’s continuing capitalisation on his academic title and institutional affiliation. Fraser has no academic research history in the field of race and ethnicity studies.

* As much as sticks and stones, words break bones. Sudanese-Australians have been bashed and attacked. In Toowoomba, in southeastern Queensland, a Sudanese-Australian family was driven out of town by repeated assaults from a neo-Nazi gang. The gang has warned that it will intensify its race-hate campaign (The Australian, July 23).

* Free speech is not a matter for the individual alone. We can see the limitations of this position as soon as we place students, largely ignored in the debate, at the centre of the issue. We are not just dealing with the sentiments of an individual but with the practices of a figure who exercises power and authority, vested in him by an institution, over students. His assessments help to determine their life chances in the future as well as their capacity to learn effectively in the present. How does a person who believes that people are unequally genetically endowed with intelligence and a capacity for violence undertake to fairly and equally assess students who come from different parts of the world? If a teacher holds such views, how can they treat students fairly on the basis of merit?

* It is timely to begin to talk about an ethics of speech founded on principles of responsibility and accountability. An ethics of speech demands that as speakers we take responsibility for unequal relations of power and resources, such as those that mark the relationship between a university professor and Sudanese refugees fleeing violence, poverty and persecution.

If free speech is not to become the last refuge for race fanatics and hate-mongers, in the context of an already volatile climate, it needs to be articulated hand-in-hand with an ethics of responsibility. Join us in denouncing the travesty of a free speech free of ethics.

Dr Adam Aitken

Department of Writing,

Ruben Dante Allas

PhD candidate, Faculty of Law

Wollongong University

Tess Allas

MA candidate, Faculty of Arts,

University of Sydney

Associate Professor Margaret Allen,

University of Adelaide

Dr Nicole Anderson

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Tim Anderson,

University of Sydney

Mireille Astore

University of Western Sydney

Shae Bacales

Macquarie University

Professor Bobby Banerjee

University of South Australia

Dr Greg Battye

School of Creative Communication,

University of Canberra

Dr Ian Bedford

Department of Anthropology,

Macquarie University

Associate Professor Melanie Beresford

Macquarie University

Dr Katherine Biber

Division of Law,

Macquarie University

Dr Tony Birch,

University of Melbourne

Dr Rebecca Bishop

Australian National University

Barbara Bloch

University of Western Sydney

Sonja Braidner

Ethics, Equity and Social Justice,

Curtin University of Technology

Dr Gill Branston

School of Journalism,

Media and Cultural Studies,

Cardiff University, Cardiff, Wales, UK

Professor Colin Brown

Dean, Faculty of Media, Society and Culture,

Curtin University of Technology

Dr James N Brown

Macquarie University, retired,

London, Ontario, Canada

Dr Lia Bryant

University of Adelaide

Professor Chilla Bulbek

Department of Gender Studies,

University of Adelaide

Dr Maureen Burns

University of Queensland

Dr Adrian Carton

Macquarie University

Dr Maryrose Casey

University of Queensland

Benito Cao

University of Adelaide

Talya Chalef

private citizen,

North Fitzroy, Vic.

Andrea Chareunsy

Macquarie University

Charlene Chen

Macquarie University

Aree Cohen

Division of Society,

Culture, Media and Philosophy,

Macquarie University

Assoc Professor Anne Cranny-Francis

Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Laura Dales

School of Social and Cultural Studies,

University of Western Australia

Vinita Deodhar

Macquarie University

Professor Stephanie Hemelryk Donald

University of Technology, Sydney

Dr Tanja Dreher

Macquarie University

Adjunct Associate Professor Ian Duncanson

Griffith Law School,

Griffith University

Wilson Duong

Macquarie University

Dr Kevin Dunn

University of New South Wales

Dr Paul Dwyer

Faculty of Arts,

University of Sydney

Dr Jane Elliot

University of Wales,

Swansea, UK

Elaine Evans

Macquarie University

Gillan Evans

Macquarie University

John Fielder

Centre for Aboriginal Studies,

Curtin University of Technology

Dr Emma Felton

Australian Catholic University

Dr Natalie Fenton

Department of Media and Communications,

Goldsmiths College, London, UK

Dr Maria-Suzette Fernandes-Dias

Australian National University

Dr Joseph M Fernandez

Curtin University of Technology

Assoc Professor Tim Fitzpatrick

School of Languages and Culture,

University of Sydney

Dr Peter Gale

University of South Australia

Dr Debjani Ganguly

Australian National University

Dr Devleena Ghosh

University of Technology Sydney

Maria Giannacopolous

Critical and Cultural Studies

Macquarie University

Dr Albert Gomes

La Trobe University

Ian Goodwin-Smith

University of Adelaide

Mark Goudkamp

New South Wales Teachers Federation state councillor,

Sydney NSW

Dr Nicole Graham

Division of Law,

Macquarie University

Adjunct Assoc Professor Judith Grbich

Griffith Law School,

Griffith University

Hilary Green

Macquarie University

Dr Melissa Hardie

University of Sydney

Dr Mark Harris

Law School,

La Trobe University, Victoria

Dr Felicity Haynes

University of Western Australia

Associate Professor Gillian Heller

Department of Statistics,

Macquarie University

Dr Anna Hickey-Moody

Monash University

Dr Anne-Marie Hildson

Curtin University of Technology

Tomoko Hidaka

University of Adelaide

Alia Imtoual

University of Adelaide

Dr Laknath Jayasinghe

University of Queensland

Dr Fiona Jenkins

School of Humanities,

Australian National University, ACT

Dr Caroline Josephs

University of Western Sydney

Elaine Kelly

Macquarie University

John Kennedy

school principal, retired,

Concord West

Trish Kennedy

High school teacher,

Brigidine College, Randwick

Dr Olivia Khoo

University of New South Wales

Dr Tseen Khoo

School of Political & Social Inquiry,

Monash University

Ann Killen

University of South Australia

Peter King

National Institute of Social Research,

University of Adelaide

Sonja Kurtzer

Department of Gender Studies,

University of Adelaide

Elaine La Forteza

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Anthony Lambert

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Braddon Lance

Department of Economics,

Macquarie University

Dr Jacqueline Lo

Australian National University

Dr David T. J. Loong

School of Chemistry, University of Sydney

Trish Luker

School of Law and Legal Studies,

La Trobe University

Dr Catharine Lumby

University of Sydney

Dr Chris Lyttleton

Department of Anthropology,

Macquarie University

Dr Margaret Macintyre

Department of Communication and Cultural Studies,

Curtin University of Technology

Assoc Professor Nick Mansfield

Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Gay McAuley

Department of Performance Studies,

University of Sydney

Dr Aileen Moreton-Robinson

University of Queensland

Samantha Murray

Macquarie University, NSW

Venkat Narayanan

Department of Economics,

Macquarie University

Dr Fiona Nicoll

University of Queensland

Ryota Nishino

Faculty of Arts,

‘ Humanities and Social Sciences,

University of Western Australia

Dr Susan Oakley

Department of Labour/Gender Studies,

University of Adelaide

Dr Baden Offord

Southern Cross University

Edison Oh

University of Melbourne

Dr Brigitta Olubas

Department of English,

University of New South Wales

Dr Goldie Osuri

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Simon Overall

Macquarie University

Dr Shalmalee Palekar

CAPSTRANS,

University of Wollongong

Lara Palombo

Department of Gender Studies,

University of Adelaide

Professor Chris Patel

Accounting and Finance,

Macquarie University

Dr Suvendrini Perera

Faculty of Media,

Society and Culture,

Curtin University of Technology

Associate Professor Peter Petocz

Department of Statistics,

Macquarie University

Hans Pieters

University of South Australia

Assoc Professor Bob Pokrant

Faculty of Media,

Society and Culture,

Curtin University of Technology

Assoc Professor Joseph Pugliese

Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Kalpana Ram

Department of Anthropology,

Macquarie University

Holly Randall-Moon

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Johanna Rendle-Short

School of Language Studies,

Australian National University

Rebecca Reeve

Department of Economics,

Macquarie University

Damien Riggs

Department of Psychology,

University of Adelaide

Ian Rintoul

Refugee Action Coalition

David Ritchie

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Philipa Rothfield

Philosophy Program,

La Trobe University

Professor Lynette Russell

Centre for Australian Indigenous Studies,

Monash University

Pam Rycroft

The Bouverie Centre,

La Trobe University

Dr Patricia Sant

Independent Scholar,

London, Ontario, Canada

Michelle Sparks

President, UTS Students Association,

UTS

Dr Deborah Staines

Macquarie University

Dr Julie Stephens

School of Social Sciences,

Victoria University

Budiadi Sudarto

Monash University

Dr Nikki Sullivan

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dominique Sweeney,

Australian National University

Carole Tan

School of Humanities and Human Services,

Queensland University of Technology

Jinna Tay

Queensland University of Technology

Deirdre Tedmanson

School of Social Policy,

University of South Australia

Professor Terry Threadgold

Cardiff School of Journalism,

Cardiff University, Wales, UK

Professor Margaret Thornton

Richard McGarvie

Chair of Socio-Legal Studies,

La Trobe University

Ingrid Tuveffson

University of New South Wales

Dr Selvaraj Velayutham

University of Western Sydney

Michelle Wauchope

University of South Australia

Julia Wee

Department of Critical and Cultural Studies,

Macquarie University

Dr Sara Wills

University of Melbourne.

Dr Amanda Wise

Macquarie University

Dr Ian Woodcock

Faculty of Architecture,

Building and Planning,

University of Melbourne

Evelyn Zargoza

Publisher, Philippine Community Herald

Goldie Osuri

Department of critical and cultural studies

Macquarie University

Suvendrini Perera

Faculty of media, society and culture

Curtin University of Technology

Joseph Pugliese

Department of critical and cultural studies

Macquarie University

Kalpana Ram

Department of anthropology

Macquarie University

Amanda Wise

Division of society, culture, media and philosophy

Macquarie University

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