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Speech is never free …

By Keith Thomas Davis  

We may have a right to it, but in reality there is no such thing as free speech. The words we utter or write are never free from a follow-on consequence. Words have the power to uplift, to soar us away on the wings of imagination, they have the ability to educate, to inspire, to entertain, and they also have the power to discriminate against and maliciously wound others.

In contemporary Australia, if thoughts are tempered by reasonableness, then we appear to have a right to a limited form of free speech. However, if you happen to agree with the version of free speech favoured by the Conservative Free Screech Mob (CFSM) then you can pretty well get away with saying anything you like. You can make an absolute bastard of yourself, and generally get away with it. Which the CFSM seem to do each and every day. That is not a good thing to my way of thinking.

I’ve thought about the words I’m about to write. In my opinion they are tempered with reasonableness, which means that unlike the CFSM I am not maliciously going for anyone’s jugular. I’m simply exercising my right to free speech, however limited that might be …

The Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Affairs had hardly completed his landmark speech when the conservative supporters of a singular version of free speech promptly dived in and tried to uppercut stiffly any sort of chance of Indigenous people having any sort of real voice, any sort of way of being heard.

Those supporters, or Screechers as I see them, who also are apparently meant to be colleagues of the Minister of Indigenous Affairs, are quite capable of reading the Uluru Statement of the Heart, but they appear totally incapable of actually understanding the content.

Not sure if that last sentence above is an opinion or a fact. Actually, that’s a fib, I know exactly what I meant when I wrote the sentence. The Uluru Statement was written in English, it is a wonderful document, it speaks of the hopes of an entire people, it is eminently understandable.

Not sure also how the Indigenous Minister for Indigenous Affairs in our conservative government feels about the craven White Supremacist views of some of his colleagues, but I’m always prepared to hazard a private guess with such matters.

As ongoing beneficiaries of the land-grab invasion I think it is a little rich that our Non-Indigenous Culture continues to pontificate on whether Indigenous people, and their 60,000 years at least old Indigenous Culture, are worthy of our recognition. Seriously?

As a man of Anglo heritage, without an Indigenous friend sitting here with me to to put my words into a cultural context … I can only say what I think. For me it has never been a question of whether we should recognise Indigenous people. For me it has always been a question of whether Indigenous people have, despite everything we have done to them, enough forgiveness remaining in their hearts to recognise us. Wouldn’t blame them if they didn’t want to.

The scare mongering surrounding the issue of an Indigenous voice has started already. There are notable people in our community who are now actively working to undermine the Referendum before it even gets off the ground. Those people, and their efforts, are appalling. In my opinion they are White Supremacists. In my opinion they are racists. We need to fight against them and what they stand for with every fibre of our being. We need to adopt flat out support mode and pull in strongly behind the aspirations of Indigenous people.

Over the next three years it is guaranteed that the racist Anti-Indigenous fear mongers, for that is what they are, will link the issue of the Referendum with the issue of Native Title Claims. They’re coming to get your ute was just a practice run for they’re coming to get your freehold property. The attached should put nervous minds at rest. Exceptional circumstances mean just that, they are rare and they rarely happen.

On other matters Indigenous … the leader of the One Nation party said that the imminent closure of Uluru to tourist climbers shows that people do not understand the importance of tourism to the Northern Territory. I’d have thought that her words show that some people still insist on, from a great height, dropping crap all over the cultural and spiritual sensitivities of Indigenous people. I snapped the following photo on my recent desert trip, and it says heaps about the extent to which the Aboriginal voice is ignored.

I also have an opinion about the free speech issue surrounding a famous Australian rugby celebrity. Does being a celebrity of any sort automatically guarantee that one will happily saddle-bag an understanding of what empathy for the feelings of others is? Open for debate that one.

I don’t have an issue with the man himself, he is young with a life full of learning still ahead of him and I hope he gets to play football again. My interest is not about his free speech issue, my interest is with the words that were reported in the press. I have an issue with where those words came from. Those words were hurtful and divisive and maliciously wounding. Those words, even if paraphrased, came from the bible.

However weak they are we do have laws here in Australia that say you cannot discriminate or vilify or generally tear others to shreds simply because you may happen to feel like it. As a secular humanist even I will say that there is some pretty good stuff in the bible, though I do think that the best parts were filched from the earlier Confucian ideals of how to get along within society. The Confucian ideal of ‘What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others’ is but one example. It was written centuries before the bible was even thought of.

I also think that the bible contains an awful lot of malicious shite. I’m pretty sure that if the bible were newly published today the discrimination/defamation no win no fee Tort Lawyers would have a field day, and a handsome payout, if they initiated a class action on behalf of vilified groups against the publishers of such a discriminatory tome. Not against the realms of possibility that one. The payout would be enormous.

Another point to dither on with holy matters. Religious Freedom Legislation. Do we need it?

I don’t, I freed myself from the clutches of religion decades ago.

In my opinion the bulk of religious people don’t need it either. They may think differently, which is fair enough. But as far as I can see they happily pursue their religious beliefs week in and week out without nongs, or legislators, buttressing their right to do so.

So what is this legislation all about in my opinion?

It is about the negative right to discriminate against anybody who is ‘other’, backed up by an appalling piece of legislation, is what I think.

I’m not yet famous for my Spag Bol recipe, and am never likely to be, so I don’t have the shield of celebrity to protect me from the barbs that flow when you have an opinion that runs at variance to that of the Screechers. But what is the point of even a limited form of free speech unless you are prepared to get out there and exercise it.

Words have power. Words have consequence. Whether they be screeched or otherwise.

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19 comments

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  1. pierre wilkinson

    so sad, so true
    alas australia

  2. RosemaryJ36

    With every right comes a responsibility. Too many insist on the first and ignore the second!

  3. New England Cocky

    The ‘media noise’ of religious freedom is merely a cover for the neoFascist policies supporting Benito Duddo in his stealthy march towards becoming Prim Monster to install a true Fuehrerstat ….. remember that in 1933 the Nazis were encouraged by German bankers and Hitler was democratically elected to Chancellor before the religious intolerance of the racist Nazi regime was initiated ….. with the general support of the German population.

  4. wam

    ‘we do have laws here in Australia that say you cannot discriminate or vilify or generally tear others to shreds simply because you may happen to feel like it.’
    We also have laws that allow you to discriminate or vilify or generally tear others to shreds simply because you may happen to feel like it. Remember tlob and his words against not black enough Aborigines?
    His speech is free because he has the money and power of murdoch or his insurance to protect him from litigation.
    This freedom from prosecution is a right and tlob et al oft use it to vilify in generic terms but he got his nickers tangled and named people They circumvented ‘blasphemy’ style costly litigation for 17c and wow his free speech got a smack. This launched an attack on 17c.as an infringement of his right to hide behind his money protection over his victim’s poverty.
    ps
    I love words even as I am poor with them but the same words can be a truth for some and not for others.

  5. Keith Thomas Davis

    Nothing poor about your words Wam!

  6. Kaye Lee

    “For me it has always been a question of whether Indigenous people have, despite everything we have done to them, enough forgiveness remaining in their hearts to recognise us”

    I have found our First People’s generosity and forgiveness an inspiration.

    “In 1967 we were counted, in 2017 we seek to be heard. We leave base camp and start our trek across this vast country. We invite you to walk with us in a movement of the Australian people for a better future.”

    Such simple words but so moving. It truly saddens me that we rebuff this inclusive invitation.

    My daughter, who is an early childhood teacher, recently organised for an Indigenous group to come and speak to the staff. One thing he said made her really think. He asked if any of them were born here in Guringai land. My daughter said she was and he explained that she should do a Welcome to Country rather than an Acknowledgement because it was her Country too. That small thing united them. It made her think about her spiritual and physical connection to country and her obligations as a custodian.

    It embarrasses me how white Australians scurry to protect their privilege rather than showing any consideration about how others feel. Imagine if Jews were asked to celebrate Hitler’s rise to power as a National holiday. I know, I know….it’s not the same…but it’s close.

    White Australia does not tell the truth about the Frontier Wars, the massacres, the disease, the rape, the dispossession, the slavery, the stealing of children, the herding onto missions, the stripping of any power of self-determination including who you marry…so many atrocities that are dismissed as being in the past with no regard for the fact that our wealth was built by stealing their land and using them as slave labour. We stole their wealth and their freedom and their wages, we tried to steal their self-respect, and today’s generations continue to be the victims. As we accumulated wealth, they fought for survival.

    Yet we defend Australia Day like it is something everyone should be joyous about – a day to get pissed and celebrate White Power.

    Can we not just do that one little thing and move our national day to a time we can together celebrate this country? They want to include us. Why can’t we include them?

  7. Keith Thomas Davis

    Well put Kaye Lee.

  8. Josephus

    Kaye, you are profoundly right- though I do not need your eloquence to be aware of what you list, all the same your words break my heart. I will keep your words to hand to reread every day.

    One personal addendum, please: Recently on The Minefield, an ABC programme, Prof. Marcia Langton, having eloquently described the ancient ties to land and ancestors of the various ancient peoples of this land and the necessity of a Voice, went on to contrast this with what she called the ‘Blood and Soil’ doctrine of the European invaders. I found this assertion, which she repeated a few times, mostly false, and intended to hurt. That phrase has, after all, dark historical connotations, much as Anning’s comment on ‘the Final Solution to immigrant problems’ did. The ‘Blut und Boden’ doctrine, which began as a tenet of Romantic nationalism in the 1840s, was not racist at the time, though over time it was adopted by racial theorists, mainly in the Germanic states; later it was of course adopted by the Third Reich, just as the ‘Endloesung’ or Final Solution catchphrase was.

    I found Langton’s words false, hurtful, and ill thought out :

    1 false: In Europe some states have indeed based their communitarian doctrine upon ancestry, cf historical Germans from Russia and the Baltics were allowed in as of right post 1990 though they spoke no German. In contrast, in the Latin states of Europe rights doctrine is based on an abstraction devoid of ethnic, historical or geographical origin. Thus for example the c 250,000 Moslem Africans of French overseas island Mayotte are by birth fully French, and also now fully EU citizens.
    2 hurtful: even Germany is not consistent in its blood and soil doctrine. My family tried to get German passports by way of historical restitution, since my mother had had her German passport removed against her will. We failed, because that right is reserved only for descendents of males.
    3 ill thought out: Langton having outlined the necessary recognition of first nations’ ancient rights , ignored the obvious fact that these are today based, at least in part , on the very blood and soil historical associations she attributes uniquely, and wrongly, to Europeans in general.
    Langton also deemed the European doctrine of rights to be based on individualism. While liberals such as Locke did indeed develop such a doctrine, this contrasts with European communutarianism. Langton conflates the two, creating confusion.

    I know that we owe the First Peoples cultural, economic, constitutional, spiritual, and simply human restitution and respect . But to use seemingly poorly researched and derogatory half-arguments is not the way to reconciliation.

  9. Kaye Lee

    Josephus,

    I have listened to Langton speak many times. She is no doubt an intelligent woman but I also find myself often disagreeing with her. And I think there are many in the Indigenous community who feel having Langton and Noel Pearson and even the hapless Warren Mundine constantly asked by government for their advice most unrepresentative. I wrote a piece about Jacinta Price and her run for parliament which caused some ire but, “just because you are Aboriginal doesn’t mean you are right.” We must listen, but think about who we are listening to and whose interests they actually represent. There are some truly inspirational Aboriginal people who will help show us the way to move forward together rather than in conflict.

  10. A commentator

    Isn’t it a pity that white middle class types don’t welcome the participation of indigenous people across the entire political spectrum.

  11. Jack Cade

    Kaye. That’s the sort of thinking that criticising Netanyahu is anti-Semitic, it is a way of silencing dissent. I don’t know too many Indigenous people, but I have a fair idea that Warren Mundine speaks for very few it any of them.

  12. Phil

    Scratch a Tory and under that fine veneer of respectability, will be a rancid toxic racist.

    Anyone who thinks there is going to be any reconciliation or any input from the very people that own this land any time soon are kidding themselves. A cursory look at the comments on Facebook this morning confirmed if any confirmation was needed, that the racists are winning the PR war. Ignorant comments like ‘ I was born here and I will climb (Ayres Rock) Uluru anytime I like ‘ etc Were par for the course. This is the ‘ Free Speech ‘ the Tories in government want their ignorant supporters to be able to say and worse, with out the interference from those nosey PC types. As the racist government instils the racist attitudes in the community, they can then slowly turn off the social welfare or control it totally which has already started. I despair.

  13. Paul Davis

    Interesting article Keith and thought provoking comments from everyone.

    Following in same vein as Phil, unfortunately, watched several minutes of DarkSky last night (swapped over ‘cos i lasted only five minutes on Q&A until disenfranchised wannabe troughsnouter Moylan’s first comment re Newstarve was ‘why do we pay people who don’t work’) and there in the Darkness were the usual vultures defending Hanson and others re our right to stomp all over Uluru. Haven’t we as a nation acknowledged that Uluru is part of the national estate and its custodians are the indigenous communities to whom it is sacred? However argue the rwnjs, people are allowed to climb st marys cathedral and other holy places around the world then surely it’s OK. I would assume that the owners and custodians of these joints have given permission and I’ll bet you can’t climb every church, temple, mosque, synagogue, etc just ‘cos it’s there. IMHO a totally specious argument.

  14. Wat Tyler

    On the matter of ‘free speech’’, – although
    perhaps only tenuously connected – what Colvin said today about the AFP failure to investigate the Medevac matter was actually ‘We don’t have to answer to the people.’
    We already know that. The fact is that he’s admitting it proves the point made in the Guardian recently, quoting a French intellectual ‘The worst thing about being lied to is the realisation that we are not even considered worthy enough to be told the truth.’

  15. wam

    dear kaye I was lucky enough to have the first Community Aborigines in the nt to attend high school, in my class.
    They came from Yirkala, Galiwinku,Lltyentye Apurte, Amoonguna and Angurugu. All but one are long dead. The men in their 40s and the women 50s and 60s. In that class were children from darwin families. The mothers were invariably loving caring women. so kind, generous and friendly. These were Khalin women, stolen generation with no schooling beyond grade 3. All with every right to be bitter about their treatment but not negative just forward looking.
    Like all societies in Australia the men, made to carrt dog tags, were more likely to express anger Indeed even the non-Aborigines were disadvantaged and gaoled for ‘co-habiting.
    When I see moylan, hanson and almost any member of the clp, lnp and christian conservative I have met socially or at work (very wary of the nt and canberra greens),
    I realise how much tolerance inner strength I have still to learn from the Australian Aborigines because those white Australians invoke anger and disgust in me at their blind hatred.

  16. Kaye Lee

    wam,

    I met two sisters from the Stolen Generation who were reunited as adults. I asked them if they were bitter about what had happened to them. They were sad but not bitter. They said we learn from every experience in life, good and bad, and they felt in a position to help build bridges. Their forgiveness and their willingness to try to reconcile was inspirational. Luckily, they had been raised by loving white families, unlike too many others.

  17. Stephengb

    Some great comments, inspired by a thoughtful article

    Thank you John Thank you folks.

    I appreciate your words which often challenge or make me think deeper into myself.

  18. wam

    Kaye,
    Such stories are consistently told and the love tolerance and strength of character displayed shows how terribly wrong the premise for stealing children was.

    I wrote to tlob about a bloke who I used to meet at the betting shop after we retired from footie where he, a man with white line fever, always punched kicked or elbowed me.
    He was evacuated in 1942 as an infant and got sick on the way south and put into a hospital. The rest of the family went on to a town 100kms on.When he recovered the nuns didn’t bother to take him to his parents they kept him as an orphan.
    Tlob said that if I was telling the truth yes he would qualify as stolen.
    One of my sad beliefs is when the australian system did such awful things to the white children sent here from pommieland after the war what chance did black kids have??

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