The view from Billinudgel

The great crusades
The defenders of free speech are happy to shut it down when it suits them

The elitist couch crusaders of the far right have had a busy but productive week – so many pesky lefties to sneer at, so much political correctness to whinge about. It was almost an embarrassment of carnage, which was just the way they like it.

For starters, there was the Coopers–Bible Society promotion that used two hardline Liberal conservatives to launch a beer under the guise of a terribly civilised debate on same-sex marriage. Unsurprisingly, many serious drinkers found this inappropriate and divisive, and chose to exercise their own freedom of choice by organising a boycott of the South Australian brewery. Horrifying political correctness, spluttered the crusaders, a blatant attempt to shut down free speech.

But when a group of business executives sent Malcolm Turnbull a terribly civilised letter urging him to get on with legalising same-sex marriage, the same crusaders screeched to a juddering halt before taking off in the opposite direction. None of your bloody business, they howled. Shut up and go away. Your job is to provide lavish and slavish support to the government’s economic policy irrespective of merit or coherence. That’s not free speech, that’s interference.

The same could be (and indeed was) said of Ian and Greg Chappell’s letter to the Adani board, in which the former cricketers ask the Adani family to rethink their proposal to build a mega-mine in Queensland. How dare they, howled the crusaders, sport and politics do not mix.

It was not long ago that conservative governments instituted boycotts of the Moscow Olympics and, more crucially, the apartheid regime in South Africa. But that was then and this is now, and in any case, coal is good for humanity.

But the crunch came when the incoming Australian Council of Trade Unions secretary, Sally McManus, said that she was not against breaking unjust laws if there was no other recourse. Anarcho–Marxist claptrap, opined Christopher Pyne, apparently an expert in such ideologies. The crusaders fell over each other to agree: this was the end of democracy as they knew it.

Some defenders of McManus fought back, citing the great lawbreakers of history: Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela. But they did not take these somewhat exaggerated examples to their logical conclusion, which was that, like these great renegades, McManus should expect to be jailed or assassinated or both – a fate many right-wing crusaders would probably endorse.

But there is no need to go to such extreme comparisons when there are others here at home. The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been wrestling with apologists of abusers who feel they are above the law and did not, and in some cases still will not, follow it.

In particular, the Roman Catholic Church, the mother of many of the Australian’s own chapter of crusaders, is fiercely opposed to revealing the crimes of the confessional. Instead of doing its secular duty and reporting them to the police, the Church would prefer to shelter and perhaps counsel the abusers before moving them on to resume their offences elsewhere.

They regard the laws of their religion as superseding those of the state – rather like Sharia Muslims, actually. And yet the crusaders remain strangely silent. But that is different: McManus is a union leader, and that makes her casual approach to industrial relations statute unforgiveable – anarcho-Marxist claptrap, in fact.

I would have thought that anarchism and Marxism were incompatible, and while both deserve criticism, neither can be dismissed as claptrap. But I’m sure Christopher Pyne knows best. The Australian told me so.

Mungo MacCallum

Mungo MacCallum is a political journalist and commentator. His books include Run Johnny Run, Poll Dancing, and Punch and Judy. Visit his blog, The View from Billinudgel.

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