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  • Peter Francis Fenwick

Fighting for Free Speech


Last Tuesday I had the honour to address the Adam Smith Club on the topic

Taking Responsibility for Ourselves and our Children: A Defense of Bill Leak's Message and his Right to say it.

My address concluded as follows:

I would now like to return to the point where we started – the Royal Commission into juvenile detention in the Northern Territory. To be effective, any solution must consider why so many indigenous teenagers are in the prison system and how to reduce the numbers entering it. We cannot ignore the fact that fractured communities and poor parenting are a major cause.

Over the past century, by deliberate intent, the State has diminished the role of the family. In sometimes subtle ways the process of undermining the family continues. In many cases, parents have been absolved from responsibility for their children.

Professionals – social workers, nurses, police, teachers, etc. – now do much of the work that parents used to do. No matter how much money government spends on this, nor how dedicated these professionals are, they cannot adequately replace good parents.

Throughout Australia, poor parenting is having an adverse effect in many communities. It is worst in Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal children are seven times more likely to be subject to physical or sexual abuse; aboriginal women are 34 times more likely to suffer domestic violence.

In August, Bill Leak published his cartoon drawing attention to this social problem. He was immediately castigated on radio by Jon Faine and on social media by Dr. Tim Soutphommasane.

Melissa Dennison, an aboriginal woman on study leave in Germany, posted a complaint to the Human Rights Commission. Consequently, 10 weeks after publishing his cartoon, Bill Leak was asked by the Human Rights Commission to defend allegations of racial hatred under the Racial Discrimination Act.

Bill Leak’s role is a social commentator. That is what he does for a living. He does it exceptionally well. He is a great Australian. He is not a racist. The case against Bill Leak has been dropped, as has another contrived one from two old guys from Fitzroy Crossing. But the problems of a bad law and an activist commission remain.

Free speech is the right that underpins our free and prosperous society. It is hard to draw people’s attention to the problems that bedevil Aboriginal communities, or any other social problem for that matter, if one cannot discuss them. Yet that is the effect of 18C and the processes of the Human Rights Commission.

Action to change the law and abolish the Human Rights Commission is underway. It is important that this succeeds.

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