August 8, 2012
Tony Abbott's speech to the Institute of Public Affairs is part of the campaign that says press freedom in Australia is under threat from the Gillard Government's proposed public interest test recommended by The Finkelstein Report into Media and Media Regulation and Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The speech is political through and through. It has little to do with strengthening human rights in the Australian constitution or equal rights and more to do with the right of free speech being under siege from jihads conducted by the Gillard Government. Abbott says that the Gillard government’s response to criticism:
has been thinly veiled intimidation of critics masquerading as proposals for better regulation. Instead of mounting a better argument, this government’s inclination is to disqualify its critics. Its instinctive response to criticism is to bully people rather than to reason with them.This is not a government that argues its case. Mostly, it simply howls down its critics using the megaphone of incumbency...The ferocity of this government’s return of serve often goes way beyond reasonable counter-argument to become a form of state-sponsored bullying.
Therefore, any new watchdog could become a political correctness enforcement agency destined to suppress inconvenient truths and to hound from the media people such as Andrew Bolt or Alan Jones.
Abbott concludes by saying that the Liberal Party is the freedom party---it stands for freedom and it will be freedom’s bulwark against the encroachments of an unworthy and dishonourable government.
Abbott says that the Gillard Government is a government that wants to prohibit statements (S18c of Racial Discrimination Act) that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” another person or a group of people on grounds of race or ethnicity; that conducts jihads against mining magnates; assaults mum-and-dad anti-carbon tax protestors; and is out to get News Ltd for pursuing anti-government stories.
It's politics based on Abbott's usual tactic of misrepresentation and beatup to deepen the partisan divide. What the Finkelstein inquiry recommended was a News Media Council, appointed via an arms' length process which would be mostly funded by industry but with some government funding, and would run in a very similar fashion to the present, industry created, Australian Press Council. As Margaret Simons points out:
The crucial difference would be that in cases where the council found a publication to have breached the well established standards, which are supported by all major media outlets, then it would have the power to order the publication of a correction, apology or right of reply. If the news media outlet refused, then there would be the power to apply for a court order enforcing the council's finding. An editor who defied such an order would be in contempt of court, and could face criminal penalties.
So it is designed to make the media more accountable for their deceptions, misrepresentations, distortions and untruths. Abbott's no to this proposal means he supports, and gives the greenlight to, the self-regulation that okays the deceptions, misrepresentations and untruths by the powerful media organizations who have little time for democracy.
Abbot is going to repeal the anti-discrimination provisions (not hurt feelings) of S18c of Racial Discrimination Act. S18c renders unlawful (not prohibits) acts (not statements) that is likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.
So Abbott's conception of liberalism is that it defends the freedom to discriminate on racial grounds.