Guide In Defence of Freedom of Speech: From Ancient Greece to Andrew Bolt

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But, bugger! It all went pear-shaped at the last minute. He would have been right there, too. During the day, delegates were reminded several times that two-year data retention is highly intrusive. It is a question that George Brandis would not have enjoyed facing, and, given his spectacular meltdown on Sky News when being questioned by David Spears the evening before the symposium, he could have been humiliated again.

Free speech and its enemies

Despite the Brandis no-show, it was an interesting day. My disappointment at not being able to heckle Brandis — via the symposium Twitter stream freespeech — was assuaged later in the day by the speech of shadow Attorney General Mark Dreyfus. But, I must say I was mildly impressed.

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Grumpy IPA types complained bitterly that Dreyfus had given an off-piste political speech, but I loved that he rubbed their pretty little noses in it. He also added that the proposed changes to security laws would not only lead to more surveillance of innocent people, but could also lead to the criminalisation of journalists who try to report on the subject in the public interest. Dreyfus also raised the idea that the current government has a very narrow conception of free speech, pointing out that Brandis has not yet moved on long-awaited shield laws for journalists.

They still have an undergraduate understanding of political philosophy and of human rights. But there was another surprising note for me too; a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be on the same ideological page as the new libertarian senator for New South Wales, David Leyonhjelm. He was boring and nearly drove the over-pastried audience to sleep. The other over-arching thought I had by the end of the day is that I want an Institute of my own. The conference room was full of Institute folk.

The most lunar was the dynamic duo from the Adelaide Institute, home of holocaust denier and wacky conspiracy theorist, Frederick Toben.

In Defence of the IPA: From the Great Gina to Andrew Bolt

By far the largest contingent was from the Institute for Public Affairs, which was not surprising given the pedigree of the Freedom Commissioner. The venue was crawling with IPAns, and most were glum that their shining light Brandis was not there too. Former ALP parliamentarian Gary Johns was on the podium representing the Australian Institute for Progress, but there is no digital footprint for this august association. However, Johns has had a long association with the IPA.

Perhaps they just got the initials the wrong way around. Johns certainly fits the IPA mould. It was an extraordinary performance, seemingly powered by anger, rather than reason. They are all forms of bullying and the degree or severity of each is measured in millimetres, not miles.

Of course, no trip through the troubled recent history of free speech in Australia would be complete without a hat tip to the old masters. And true to form, the philosophes got their turn. All well and good, but the first three are in place to protect the interests of the State, not the people. Morality is a social imposition, not a political one and the right to privacy is under even more threat today than freedom of speech. The most confusing issue of the day was perhaps the distinction if there is one between racism and religious bigotry. As revenue hungry governments across Canada look to expand their coffers, this exclusive event will detail what these tax policies look like in practice and why they were reversed.

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Panel Discussion: ‘Free speech – how far is too far?’

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