We have heard the constant complaints of those opposite over the last 48 hours about ethnic community leaders, multicultural community leaders, and their views on this particular proposal. I said at the start that I was a first amendment type of person: I view the proposal put up by the government and Senator Brandis in the exposure draft as a compromise. I accept that my views are not typical of all those in this place, or indeed all those in this country, in supporting a very strong and almost unlimited commitment to freedom of speech. The problem I have is that those opposite seem to see us as a nation of tribes; as a nation where self-declared leaders of communities—communities defined by race—should somehow should have a special place in the consideration of legislation that any other Australian citizen should not. Every Australian’s view has an equal standing in this place—every Australian’s view, no matter what community they declare themselves to be from; whether it be one or many; and whether or not they declare themselves to be leaders of communities. The elected bodies in this country are the elected representatives of the Australian people. We don’t believe in a corporatist society, or in one where there are a series of tribes where, somehow, some people have more rights than others.
File under ‘I tried really hard to ignore this but I’m a goddamn glutton for punishment’.
So what Scott Ryan is saying here is a strawman. Because Labor and the Greens are pointing to ethnic groups who do not want this repealed because they’re afraid of the lack of legal recourse and/or the message it would send to the community, Ryan thinks that this is tantamount to saying that these groups deserve ‘a special place’. He thinks that paying attention to what multicultural leaders have to say is to give them special treatment over and above everybody else.
Unfortunately for Ryan, the fact is that governments are made up of people who are elected to represent, but may not BE representative. That is where the role of community consultation, submissions to enquiries and even making petitions to the Parliament comes. It’s quite simple, really - there’s no way that this group of humans elevated to high office through a complex series of machinations (only one of which is election day) could actually claim to truly know or truly understand the concerns of every perspective on every issue the government moves to legislate upon. That’s why they ask, because it’s quite possible that the people who make up the parliament don’t actually fully understand the diversity they represent.
Of course, every government has the right to at some point make a decision that may not take into account what interest groups want. We hope that that decision has been made after being in full possession of the facts. What the government then has to do is outline why it has chosen to do what it is doing and why it believes the benefits of a given change outweigh the costs the interest groups have outlined.
Earlier in the speech I quote above, Ryan spoke about how a lack of free speech means racism is pushed underground to fester and the solution to unfair speech is more, free speech. I happen to agree with this argument, but it does assume that there is some standard of what is ‘unfair’, i.e. being harmful, insulting or offensive but not being censored or restricted.
I don’t know how he can make this argument without choking on his own hypocrisy. He says in the quote above, essentially, that ethnic minorities have nothing to offer the debate on what speech should be free and which unfree. So if the people who racist speech affects are told their perspectives on what speech should be unfree (by implication, what speech us unfair or undesirable) aren’t valuable, on what standard, on whose judgement can he say that something is a legitimate target of social activism? How can he say that more speech, rather than restrictions, are the solution when he doesn’t think that the perspective of those who understand the problem better than anyone matters?
Disclaimer: same at the last one.