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Nov 2, 2011

Julian Assange defends Andrew Bolt.

We can never be sure that the opinion we are endeavoring to stifle is a false opinion; and if we were sure, stifling it would be an evil still. - John Stuart Mill.

We the Government should be the arbiters of what they see and they hear. We know best. - Former Governor-General Sir Paul Hasluck.

The quotes above give a pretty clear example of the attitudes of the two sides of the freedom of speech battle. There is no other legitimate position; any ‘moderate’ position that places any restrictions on that freedom is automatically part of the Hasluck side.

It is relatively common for us to defend the right of those we agree with to say what they want without fear of repercussions, less so for those who we disagree with. To really commit to freedom of speech to the point where we are willing to allow without question the right of others to say things that we disagree with totally, even about ourselves, is the tricky one.

Julian Assange manages this in his defense of Andrew Bolt who has been critical of him in the past, but was unjustifiably dragged through a kangaroo court on ‘human rights’ issues and found guilty:

It might seem unusual to take a stand for a bloke who has called you a ''patronising, supercilious racist git'' when that very same man has just been prosecuted for ''race hate speech'' - but the conviction of Andrew Bolt ought to raise alarm bells for all who believe in freedom of expression.

However much you disagree with Bolt, the ''hate speech'' law under which he was prosecuted is more offensive than he is.

Bolt was found in violation of the Racial Discrimination Act because his ''offensive'' 2009 article accused ''fair-skinned'' Aborigines of choosing their racial identity to get certain benefits. It isn't hard to understand why the subjects of Bolt's column were offended but many commentators have avoided considering the underlying law because they don't like Bolt or his views. Even those who move past their own politics to raise legitimate concerns over the precedent set by Bolt's case have missed the most important point.

Yes, it is problematic that the judge's decision revolves around whether someone claims to be offended as opposed to whether Bolt knew he would offend the ''ordinary'' Australian in the representative group or the ''ordinary'' Australian based on ''community standards''. But the real question is whether we want judges in charge of the parameters of public debate - what we can and cannot say - at all. …

Hate speech laws in Australia are a form of censorship, backed by sanction and justified by the perceived need to protect historically persecuted minorities and maintain racial harmony. Leaving aside the empirical question of whether they actually achieve those purposes (the experience in Victoria suggests otherwise), different approaches taken by different governments reveal the danger of putting the state in charge.
Its worth the read.


  1. you fail to mention Bolts article was full of lies and part truths. The real reason for him losing the court case.

  2. I saw that the other day and thought much the same thing. I'm ambivalent towards Assange, and for what it's worth I think Bolt blew the making of a good point with some lousy journalism, but I think he's got this exactly right. Another John Stuart Mill quote sums it up even better:

    If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.

  3. I disagree about the 'lies' part. Angry is right, it was sloppy.

    Good quote Angry, I've saved it in my little file.