Freedom of speech, I have heard recently, is a near-sacred concept and it includes the freedom to offend, insult and humiliate. While 18C has been fixed up and “made stronger” by changing those terms to “harass”, there remains a law on the statute books which greatly inhibits freedom of speech.
SUMMARY OFFENCES ACT 1988 – SECT 4A
4A Offensive language
(1) A person must not use offensive language in or near, or within hearing from, a public place or a school
Why is this ridiculous law allowed to remain on our books? I mean we all need the freedom to offend, right? Why should some bastard arbitrarily decide that my language is offensive? I mean, that’s fucked, right?
As has been observed:
“The cornerstone of public order legislation is usually a provision that permits police to act where behaviour in a public place is regarded as offensive, insulting, abusive or indecent. Such provisions are inevitably vague and open-ended, with the characterisation of the behaviour left to the discretion of the police in the first instance, and subsequently to the discretion of magistrates.”
David Brown et al, Criminal Laws: Materials and Commentary on Criminal Law and Process of New South Wales
So where is the outcry? All right, nobody charged Andrew Bolt. And ok, it’s usually only indigenous people who ever get charged with offensive language. But still, this greatly infringes on my right to go to the football and scream abuse at the umpires. How do can tradesmen go to work when they know that an expletive uttered when they drop a tool or hurt themselves may see them hauled before a magistrate and, just like Andrew Bolt, be told to say sorry and not to do it again? (Ok, I know that some of you are going to mention that the defence offered under Section 2 of the Act which states: “2. It is a sufficient defence to a prosecution for an offence under this section if the defendant satisfies the court that the defendant had a reasonable excuse for conducting himself or herself in the manner alleged in the information for the offence”, but that’s like saying that 18D offered protection to Bill Leak when his cartoon drew criticism and we all know that people don’t like to be criticised so where’s the protection there?)
Why shouldn’t I be allowed to roam the streets with a megaphone pointing out what a pack of arseholes politicians are? Why shouldn’t I be able to stand outside a school waiting for any teacher that gave my child poor grades and express my views in language that makes it clear what my thoughts are? Why shouldn’t I be able, when pulled over for speeding, turn to the officer and say, “What’s the trouble, fuck-face?”
This offensive language act is outrageous and, even though it is may help in the locking up of aboriginal people, surely in this day and age, we can find a more sophisticated reason to incarcerate them. Something like, say, banning the words, “invasion day”! No, the act must go in the name of freedom of speech.
I urge you all to write to your Federal MP and ask them to put time and energy into the repeal of this act. And don’t let them put you off by suggestions that there is an energy problem at this time. When they try to tell you that it’s a state law and outside their jurisdiction, point out that’s never stopped them interfering when it suits them. Surely they could use the Corporations Act or something.
No, go online and start some petition. Organise. Or get Andrew Bolt onside… That should do it!