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Private Members’ Statement – Freedom of speech

18 Nov 2015

Mr Speaker, I rise to raise concerns over freedom of speech that have been put to me by the constituents of Hawkesbury.

Mr Speaker, the Australia I know is one where diverse opinions are expressed, ideas debated, frank discussions held and the right to disagree highly prized.

This ability to articulate ideas freely is a defining hallmark of western civilisation. This openness to new ideas has caused our societies to prosper, while others have stagnated.

To this great tradition, Australia has added our larrikin spirit, our “she’ll be right” attitude and our “live and let live” philosophy, further protecting us from the bitter political acrimony that has plagued other nations.

Our respect for this freedom is even in our national anthem – where we proudly sing that  “we are young and free”.

But Mr Speaker – this freedom is now under threat.

Recently in Tasmania, an unelected bureaucrat has announced the Catholic Church will be investigated for distributing a booklet in their school system outlining their views on marriage.

This booklet, while articulating both religious and secular arguments to make its case, specifically calls for respect, sensitivity and love for all people.

Following its distribution, Australian Marriage Equality put out a call on its website for people who were offended to come forward and make complaints to the Anti-Discrimination Commission.

In other words, they deliberately manufactured a situation to use the big stick of big government against a private religious institution for simply expressing its beliefs.

The complainant was not a parent or child who received the booklet – but a Greens candidate who claims to have been insulted and offended it was ever produced. And now the Church has 21 days in which to respond to these charges.

Mr Speaker – something is very wrong with our political system when a belief held for over 2000 years by a Christian church can now of all a sudden be judged ‘hateful’ by some faceless bureaucrat.

Our right to free speech comes with the responsibility to not incite violence or hatred. Arguing your view on the definition of marriage clearly passes this test. Yet we are now in a situation where the government is seeking to prevent a Church from teaching its own beliefs in its own schools.

The booklet itself lists several cases where bureaucrats have weaponised state power to prosecute and pressure religious institutions where the legal definition of marriage has changed.

In Australia, this change has not yet even occurred – but this campaign of coercion has already commenced.

Make no mistake – we are rapidly progressing from mere political-correctness to now mobilising the machinery of big government to silence those with different views. Ironically, the people who preach most about tolerance are turning out to be the most intolerant of all.

And sadly it’s our journalists, artists and academics – supposedly the stewards of intellectual liberty – who have become the most active in trying to silence views they do not agree with.

This issue is not about religious freedom.

It’s about freedom itself.

All parties in a debate – whether politicians, think tanks, religious institutions, lobby groups or anyone else – should be able to express their views freely without censure. The state licensing freedom to a particular group is no freedom at all.

Whatever your views on the definition of marriage, we should all be uncomfortable the government now has the power to intimidate, investigate and prosecute you if it finds your views somehow inappropriate.

Many people are offended daily by the constant stream of ridiculous ideas emanating from the political Left – on issues ranging from economics to the environment. Yet they would never dream of referring their opponents to government tribunals for investigation.

Mr Speaker, either we are free or we are not.

All of us – by virtue of our intrinsic value as human beings – have the fundamental right to speak our views, without the government in its infinite wisdom trying to regulate our private beliefs.

I have read several statements from Bishop Julian Porteous regretting any offence.

He should stop apologising. This is his point of view and no one else has to agree with him. He should not regret saying it just because some people have chosen to take offence. If they disagree, they should engage in debate. That is how free societies work.

Mr Speaker, this case should be dismissed immediately and the Tasmanian Anti Discrimination Commissioner should issue an apology to the community – followed by her immediate resignation for this grave error of judgement.

The Australian people are not stupid.

We live a vibrant liberal democracy.

We are exposed to different opinions every single day.

And it is our freedom to express our views and engage in debate that has enriched our nation in the past and will ensure we flourish in the future.

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