Now that we have a Liberal leadership that tends more towards the conservative-liberal tradition of Sir Robert Menzies, can we expect the protections of freedom of speech that were promised during the same-sex marriage debate?
If Scott Morrison has any hope of rebuilding the support base of the Liberal Party then he needs to recover Menzies’ liberal-conservative approach. The Prime Minister would do well to honour the deeply conservative instincts of many voters and the historic party membership base by opposing the increasingly authoritarian political correctness characterising so much of the Left. A good place to begin is freedom of speech.
Now that the new Left has ensconced itself in our culture-forming institutions — universities, schools, public service sector, corporations — it sees freedom of speech as a pernicious force that must be eradicated.
Ironically, conservatism has become the new radicalism and the cultural Marxists are worried.
The right to free speech, to the cultural Marxist, is like property rights to the classical Marxist — a mere pretext for those in power to maintain their privilege. The identity-politics Left dreams of a cultural revolution in which people no longer think in LGBTQ-phobic, racist and patriarchal ways. Of course, by LGBTQ-phobic they mean belief in traditional marriage or criticism of transgender ideology. By racist they mean being critical of multiculturalism. And by patriarchal they mean anything that questions feminism.
Political correctness, cultural Marxism, identity politics — call it what you like — can never embrace freedom of speech, because it ultimately seeks to shape and control culture, which cannot be shaped and controlled so long as one of the greatest shapers of culture — speech — is beyond its control.
Doctors who question transgender ideology will be harassed, activists and intellectuals who question multiculturalism will be demonised, conservative intellectuals will be no-platformed, all with the co-operation of the police, universities, and human rights and anti-discrimination commissions.
Take the case of David van Gend, a Queensland GP who has come under scrutiny by the Medical Board of Australia for tweeting against transgender ideology.
The board received a complaint against van Gend’s views and is demanding he explain how his views promote the health of members of the LGBTQ community.
The board has gone from a committee that scrutinises the credentials of doctors to one that scrutinises their thought and speech on public issues. In other words, criticism of transgender ideology falls foul of the diversity revolution and therefore must be stamped out by destroying the livelihoods of outspoken opponents.
The University of Western Australia refused to allow a talk by a prominent critic of transgender ideology on the grounds that the event could result in violence perpetrated by leftist protesters.
Just as Marxist revolutions pushed forward regardless of whether or not they were good for the poor, so the diversity revolution seeks to silence its critics despite the fact that gender-confused children can only benefit from robust debate regarding treatment within the medical community.
The same sort of thugs’ veto that was allowed at UWA has been imposed by Victoria Police on the organisers of the recent Lauren Southern and Stefan Molyneux speaking tour. The organisers were presented with a bill for $67,842.50 for the police personnel required to subdue Antifa. That’s right, the organisers, not the violent mob, were pursued for the costs imposed on the police budget. Victim blaming, anyone?
These cases are not, strictly speaking, examples of speech rights being abrogated, but they are examples of speech rights being heavily taxed to the point of being nearly impossible to enjoy without significant cost to career and livelihood. Conservatives have the right to free speech just as long as they are prepared to be bankrupt or unemployed. As long as the identity-left sees the great problem of modern society in terms of oppressive thoughts and speech directed at a class of victims, then the Left will see freedom of speech as nothing more than mere pretext for continued white heterosexual male oppression.
For conservatives, freedom of speech promises governmental accountability, robust public debate for sound public policy, and a more rational civic culture where a true diversity of views may be expressed for the sake of a considered and informed public. And yet just as communism needed to eradicate property rights to bring about its economic uniformity, so the new Left needs to eradicate freedom of speech to bring about the thought uniformity that, ironically, constitutes its diversity utopia. Freedom of speech and thought conformity coexist no more easily than property rights and economic equality.
The looming crisis of freedom of speech in Australia — nay, the liberal-democratic West — is a tremendous opportunity for Morrison or any leader of the Coalition who wishes to recapture the conservative support base that carried John Howard through four election victories. Political correctness is a form of leftist puritanism very much at odds with a still lingering Australian antipathy to wowser authoritarianism.
Although Morrison cannot necessarily intervene in the medical board or in universities, he can send a strong message to the nation that the trend of suspicion towards free speech is both pernicious and unacceptable.
A good start would be to speak out for the liberal right to religious freedom once the Ruddock review is released. Furthermore, taking the next opportunity to either amend or abolish 18C would send a strong message to the historic Liberal support base that the party is no longer happy to stand by and watch traditional liberal-conservative values such as freedom of speech be trashed by an increasingly authoritarian Left.
If Morrison can move the Liberal Party in such a direction then he has every right to place his leadership firmly within the best legacy of Menzies.
Stephen Chavura is an author and lecturer teaching history at Campion College, Sydney.
This article first appeared in The Australian, 31 August 2018