Posted on October 8, 2015

Malcolm Turnbull’s Government Is Running Scared from the Freedom to Offend

Paul Sheehan, Sydney Morning Herald, October 7, 2015

The Liberal-led federal government is illiberal in its attitudes towards freedom of speech. Switching the leadership from Tony Abbott to Malcolm Turnbull has changed nothing.

Following a string of bans against people who have committed no crime but have offended certain sensibilities, the government is playing a game with an elected democrat, Geert Wilders, who could become the next prime minister of the Netherlands.

In the latest Dutch opinion polls, the party that Wilders founded and leads, the Party for Freedom (PVV), polled 33.5 per cent primary support, far more than the next closest party, which had 20 per cent.

Given that conservative parties polled a combined 79 per cent of the vote in the most recent national poll, and given the ructions in Europe over large-scale Muslim immigration, which Wilders opposes, he is now credibly positioned to lead a coalition government after the next election.

Wilders has no criminal record. He campaigns against violence, intimidation and religious intolerance.

Two months after applying for a visa, Wilders is still being kept waiting. His application went to the Australian embassy in The Hague, where the ambassador is a former Liberal senator, Dr Brett Mason.

Wilders is due to speak in Perth on October 20 at the launch of a new political party, the Australian Liberty Alliance.

It normally takes no more than 48 hours to obtain a visa to Australia for Dutch citizens. Four members of Dutch security have already travelled to Perth to check security for Wilders’ visit, because he now lives under 24-hour police protection as a result of his criticisms of the Koran.

The Turnbull government’s disdain towards Wilders is already giving oxygen to the incipient grassroots base of the Australian Liberty Alliance, which is an outgrowth of the Q Society, led by Debbie Robinson. She told me the traffic on the new Australian Liberty Alliance website has gone from 38,000 hits a week to more than 800,000.

Wilders is denounced on the Left as a far-Right conservative because he regards Islam as hostile to the bedrock western liberal ideals of democracy, pluralism, feminism, political secularism and gay rights.

The Turnbull government’s game with Wilders is an exact re-run of what happened under the previous Labor government, which had a self-immolating record on immigration and border security.

Late in 2012, with Wilders scheduled to visit Australia, the then minister for immigration, Chris Bowen, sat on his visa application for two months before it was granted, after much public criticism. No such delay hindered the visit of Taji Mustafa, a spokesman for Hizb ut-Tahrir, an apologist group for jihad.

The re-run of this visa game with Wilders fits a pattern of the Coalition government since it took control of government two years ago.

Among its election undertakings was a commitment to narrow Section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, which extends the law against racial vilification to language which “offends”. This is an absurdly broad term to insert in any law.

The Abbott government reneged on that undertaking, no surprise given that it then enacted a suite of national security laws which gave government sweeping power to clamp down on free speech while diminishing its obligations for transparency.

The classic liberal ideal of Voltaire–that he may be offended by your views but will defend your freedom to express them–is alien to this government.

On September 29, an American anti-abortion activist, Troy Newman, was deported after he arrived after his visa had been terminated. Newman has never been convicted of a criminal offence. He believes abortion is murder, a widely-held position in the US.

On September 28, the Turnbull government also denied a visa to American rap star Chris Brown, because he was convicted six years ago of serious domestic violence charges, for which he was placed on five years probation, which he has served.

In November 2014, the Abbott government cancelled the visa of an American self-styled dating coach Julien Blanc, after a campaign against him on social media. His views are objectionable but his seminars are voluntary and he has no criminal record.

Far from embracing Voltaire, this government shrinks at the first sign of social media grapeshot.