Free Speech

The Gag That’s no Laughing Matter

In the dying days of Julia Gillard’s government, her communications minister, Steve Conroy, brought in two bills to regulate the media, or more succinctly, to nobble the Murdoch press. After all, the 2013 election was only months away and the Murdoch stable much more often than not gave Labor a hard time.

Murdoch’s cheeky Daily Telegraph mocked up a picture of Conroy in Stalin’s uniform. Outraged progressives demanded an apology. The Tele apologised, but to Stalin not Conroy:

… we would just like to say: We’re sorry, Joseph.

Yes, it is true that Stalin was a despicable and evil tyrant who was responsible for the death of many millions. However, at least he was upfront in his efforts to control the media instead of pretending he supported free speech and then suggesting that cheeky, satirical or provocative newspaper coverage might be against the law.

We also note that, despite his well-documented crimes against humanity, Stalin at least managed to hold a government together for more than three years. Nonetheless, we pay tribute to our new Commissar Conroy and stand ready to write and publish whatever he instructs us to.

Conroy’s Bill to save Australia from the media was based on the flimsy pretext that in England, Murdoch’s News of the World journos had been hacking phones, not just of royalty but even the families of murder victims. (Some of Britain’s non-Murdoch press had also been into hacking). Murdoch shut down News of the World in response. Nobody claimed anything like the phone hacking had occurred in Australia.

Still, it was a chance for Gillard. Pushed by the Greens, she gave Judge Ray Finkelstein and a stray journo called Matthew Ricketson the job of drafting improved media regulation. They came up with a PIMA or “Public Interest Media Advocate” to oversee self-regulation. Under the Bill, if Mr or Ms PIMA felt self-regulation wasn’t strict enough, he/she/it would cause the offending newspaper, in practical terms, to be delicensed.[1] Newspapers would be obliged to publish mandatory statements of error and, should editors demur, contempt-of-court penalties would apply — in other words, they could be locked up and kept behind bars indefinitely. This modest proposal ended in parliamentary tears for Conroy, Gillard (hello, Kevin Rudd 2.0)[2] and the Labor government itself, downed by Tony Abbott.

Politicians’ memories are short and down the turnpike now comes Prime Minister Albanese’s bill, via Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, to censor online “misinformation”. The pretext this time is that fake and malicious information on social media is wrecking our minds and unravelling our hitherto resilient society.

The rigmarole seems templated on Gillard’s lamentable model. Labor will give an “independent” regulator power to oversee voluntary censorship codes by the tech giants like Meta, Google and Twitter. If they. are seen to falter, the regulator — namely the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) run by Nerida O’Loughlin on $610,000 per year (p88) — imposes its own standards. And she enforces it with fines literally up to billions of dollars per day ($6.88 million or 5 per cent of global turnover, whichever is biggest).

You can bet the tech giants will rush to self-censor any posts that might remotely annoy Nerida or the government. So goodbye to online “misinformation” like ‘renewables are expensive and unreliable’, or ‘compulsory Covid vaccines are somewhat unproven and dangerous’.

If you think the bill itself defines the sort of “misinformation”  that causes social “harms”, forget it. The definitions are broad as the earth and sky. Sure, actionable “misinformation” has to be “reasonably likely [to] cause or contribute to serious harm” but the “serious harm”  test is just jelly.

Labor’s reworded bill arrives any month now. The  Coalition hasn’t gained traction against it: after all, Scott Morrison’s team created the plan in the first place. ScoMo’s ethos, you might recall, was “freedom of speech doesn’t create one job.”[3] When Albanese kicked out the LNP in 2022, he merely dusted off and hardened the LNP’s handiwork. You might think Labor’s penalties are pretty draconian (Draco would execute an Athenian for stealing a cabbage). But for the leftist mobs, Minister Rowland’s onslaught against social media freedom doesn’t go nearly far enough.

The submission by the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) on August 6 takes the cake. I’m serious, ATSE applauds the draft and wants Labor to extend censorship to cover not just online screeds but all “traditional” media — newspapers, radio, TV, Quadrant and even private messaging. Why? Because “An ongoing flood of misinformation and disinformation through online platforms risks damage to Australian democracy, institutions and society.” That’s why. So we get

Recommendation 5: Expand ACMA powers to enable enforceable industry standards on traditional media sources, including print news media.

With the Murdoch press obviously in mind, ATSE continues (emphasis added),

Some Australian news providers have been shown to be havens for science denialism and science misinformation (Lowe, 2018), while other media outlets can unintentionally amplify misinformation in well- meaning attempts to debunk it. Furthermore, it is much harder for digital platforms to police information coming from traditional media sources, as these sources may produce a mix of misinformation and factual information. Given this oversized role of traditional media in spreading misinformation, any attempt to fight misinformation that does not address the role of traditional media will be insufficient.

ATSE’s favorable citation of “Lowe 2018” is the giveaway. Ian Lowe AO was Australian Conservation Foundation president 2004-14, and his cited piece “Climate of Denial” is up on ATSE’s own website. Here he spells it all out:

We are now seeing a determined campaign of misinformation by the Murdoch press. At one level, it consists of putting forward amateur contrary views as if they hold equal weight with the [climate] science. The Australian featured on its front page a sun-tanned Bondi surfer who said he had not noticed any rise in sea level, as if this anecdote cancelled out decades of analysis of about 10,000 tide gauges around the world.

With respect, Ian, the Fort Denison tide gauge in Sydney Harbour has shown a puny 110mm of sea rise per century — that’s two-thirds the length of my iphone.

At another level, it is deliberate misrepresentation … There is now no real possibility of communicating climate science through our commercial media … The good news is the community overall has clearly moved on and the denialists in power are increasingly out of touch with reality. [His piece refers to the Coalition era].

Don’t imagine ATSE is some mickey-mouse show gone rogue. Its president from 2013-15 was the urbane Alan Finkel, who became Australia’s Chief Scientist a few years later, as well as a Fellow of the Academy of Science.. ATSE is currently headed by Dr Katherine Woodthorpe AO.[4] Her ATSE biog includes that she’s a past director of the Australian Renewable Energy Agency and Vast Solar, which is now installing the $200 million Port Augusta Solar Thermal Project with the help of $65 million federal funds.

ATSE has another 900 fellows, billed as our brightest boffins. Here’s how ATSE imagines itself:

[A] Learned Academy of independent, non-political experts helping Australians understand and use technology to solve complex problems. Bringing together Australia’s leading thinkers in applied science, technology and engineering, ATSE provides impartial, practical and evidence-based advice on how to achieve sustainable solutions and advance prosperity.

ATSE wants WhatsApp to deliver “functionality nudges” (an Orwellian term reminiscent of a former NSW Premier’s Department’s “Nudge Unit”) to curb any “misinformation” on it. ATSE not only wants dissemination of “misinformation” labelled and limited across the board, it also wants (Recommendation 4) the censorship reach to extend to those private messaging services, subject to concerns about privacy and “weakening of encryption”. ATSE’s submission agrees piously that Australians’ trust in government is already low and falling, “so it is essential that legislation designed to tackle misinformation does not undermine what trust remains. This is reinforced by the fact that Australians are particularly concerned about misinformation from the government and politicians.”

The ATSE submission goes on to support indoctrination of school students based on the playbook of climate psychologists John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. They and ATSE prescribe “inoculation” of kids with supposedly truthful climate alarmism to condition kids’ brains against any reference to harmless warming and net zero impossibilities they might later encounter. Cook, whose research team indulged in some truly bizarre behaviour, was lead author for the 2013 paper falsely claiming a 97 per cent scientific consensus for the orthodox warming hypothesis).[5]


ATSE’s big program for schools was established  by future chief scientist Finkel (above) himself. This program uses global warming alarmism as a bait to excite Year 5-10 kids about science. Or in ATSE’s words, it is “tapping into the high level of concern that most students have about global warming, climate change and sustainability.” This is circular as the ATSE alarmists helped stir up kids’ climate neuroses in the first place. 

The ATSE program is now running in close to 1000 schools in Australasia and Asia, with 100,000 kids and 1500 teachers involved annually, with topics such as “How to save our world?”. While ATSE-sourced science lessons for the kids is lively and educationally impressive, its text material features hoary and discredited memes like anxious polar bears on ice floes (their numbers in fact have tripled in the past 50 years of mild global warming. Moreover, the material bangs on about global warming melting the Arctic sea ice whereas the sea ice has stabilised since 2007 and last month was at a 21-year high). Most disgusting of all, the course thrusts at kids a misinformation video about Tuvalu drowning from rising seas, and tells kids to write a case study on it.  In the video villagers “already live with their feet in the water” and mourn, “This land will be — you know — nothing.” Fact Check against misinformation: even RMIT-ABC Fact Check ruled from scientific measurement studies that Tuvalu’s land area is expanding.

It gets worse for the reputation of science. The 2022 joint ATSE/Science Academy submission to DIGI mirrors the 2023 ATSE job. DIGI is Meta (Facebook), Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Adobe and TikTok. The DIGI players are, of course, the linchpin of the new Misinformation Bill.

The two academies urged DIGI to censor and harass any Australians who circulated what they insultingly labelled “climate denialism misinformation”. They made no bones about urging the tech giants’ power to be wielded against Murdoch’s “Sky News Australia and its media personalities”. And the regime shouldn’t stop at online censorship. They urge censoring “misinformation” in the traditional media too.

Recommendation 2: Include misinformation from professional news content within the scope of the Code.

A COP26 paper, Deny, Deceive, Delay, which the Academies’ submission also cited with approval referred to “political right-wing … top influencers” as part of a conspiratorial “intellectual dark web”. Its alleged members included best-selling psychologist Dr Jordan B. Peterson and humourist Scott Adams and his Dilbert cartoons. The paper, incidentally, was particularly aggrieved that Sky News’ Rita Panahi had called Prince (now King) Charles a climate hypocrite and idiot. Would that be misinformation or treason?

Another paper cited and approved by the two academies was another far-left conspiracy rant “The Toxic Ten — How ten fringe publishers fuel 69% of digital climate change denial.” To smear sceptics by association, the list includes “Russian state media”. Big Tech blocking these key right-of-centre outlets with their 186 million followers would be a huge win for the net-zero enforcers. Not all of the 600 science fellows viewed the submission as a credit to their Academy. Garth Paltridge, a fellow for 30-plus years, is a retired atmospheric physicist.[6] He told us at the time,

The bottom line is that research on climate change is indeed still highly controversial – both in the prediction of the extent of the change and (even more so) in the prediction of the impact of the change on society. I just cannot understand how any science academy that is supposed to operate through rational debate can behave like this – that is, to use pure political brute force to prevent one side of the argument from putting its case.

I can only assume that the Academy is subconsciously ‘chasing the money’ and is influenced by the vast funding available these days for the support of alarmist climate research. Certainly there is virtually no money to support scientists brave enough to put their heads above the parapet with a contrary view. That might be why the critical scientists seem largely to be retired.

Quadrant covered that joint submission under the felicitous headline, “Shut them up, argues the Academy of Science”. The two academies are now on a collision course with the Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) which wants the misinformation bill defanged, not augmented.

The Commission holds serious reservations about the current version of the Exposure Draft Bill’s ability to strike the correct balance. Legislation that necessitates censorship to fight misinformation and disinformation must do so in a way that prevents harm without unduly silencing reasonable minds we disagree with. Unfortunately, this initial Exposure Draft Bill has not found that equilibrium.

The HRC is not my favourite institution.[7] It lost me when then-president Gillian Triggs opined in Hobart in 2017, to a standing ovation of Greens supporters, “Sadly you can say what you like around the kitchen table at home.” But on this Misinformation BIll, HRC President Rosalind Croucher has monstered the censorship-lovers. Censorship is contrary to fundamental Australian values, she argues, and also contrary to UN human rights treaties signed by Australia. She warns that the Bill could “restrict public debate, censor unpopular opinions and enforce ideological conformity in Australia.”

Truthful information can be labelled as ‘fake news’ and delegitimized, Croucher says. “Similarly, categories [in the Bill] such as ‘harm to the health of Australians’, ‘harm to the Australian environment’ and ‘economic or financial harm to Australians, the Australian economy or a sector of the Australian economy’ are each categories about which reasonable people may legitimately have different perspectives and views.”  She complains about the Bill’s free pass to any government information, true or false, “given the enhanced legitimacy and authority that many people attach to information received from official government sources.” Arguing in surprising parallel with the Institute of Public Affairs, HRC is alarmed that government has immunity while it can get its critics censored.

As for other submissions, the draft bill is even making the ABC nervous, as its iView and Listen apps could get caught in ACMA’s censorship wringer. The ABC also complains the Bill lacks provision for ABC journos to protect their sources.

The journos’ leftist union, MEAA, like the ABC, loves the censorship Bill in principle for targeting “misinformation” that contradicts their woke opinions. MEAA’s submission complains that authorities during the Referendum failed to suppress deliberate campaigns distributing incorrect, misleading, and damaging information” by No advocates. The MEAA — trust them, they’re journalists

believes fact checkers [like their RMIT/ABC ideological mate Russ Skelton] should be a mandatory requirement of any code or standard developed.

At the same time, the MEAA feared the enhanced ACMA blowtorch could burn its many freelance journos and small online publishers. These small-timers, unlike mainstream publishers of “professional news content”, are likely targets for the official censorship. MEAA also feared ACMA could misuse its power to censor “harmful” accounts involving “disruption of public order or society” such as street protests. In MEAA’s words, “there is a long history of important social movements being considered ‘disruptive’ by governments and powerful interests.” I’m sure the union likes rioters for Black Lives Matter, Extinction Rebellion and  the “Gas the Jews” mob, but not the peaceful anti-lockdown protestors which, in Victoria’s case, involved Dan Andrew’s troopers firing rubber bullets into them as they fled.

The MEAA solution goes like this: instead of exemptions for “professional news content”, make it exemptions for all those subscribing to the MEAA’s Code of Ethics. These (I presume) union members can be relied on for “a commitment to the highest standards of honesty, fairness, independence, and respect for the rights of others.” The MEAA’s other faux solution to “misinformation” online, echoing ATSE, is for kids to get “media literacy” training, under the watchful eye of the leftist fact-checkers.

 Even through its leftist goggles the MEAA can see that the censorship regime looks a bit dicey given its green-light exemption for all propaganda from all levels of government:

It is simply unreasonable that the view of governments be protected from the reach of this Bill’s definition of “misinformation” and paves the way for government to politicise valid criticisms of it[self] while engaging in misinformation of its own.

Other leftist submissions on the Bill are nervous that giving such powers to their friendly government might backfire when wielded by a cabinet of conservatives.

I’d better close now, I’d hate to give you any misinformation.

Tony Thomas’s latest book from Connor Court is Anthem of the Unwoke – Yep! The other lot’s gone bonkers. $34.95 from Connor Court here


[1] “Death by a thousand consent forms”, as one analyst put it at the time.

[2] Gillard in desperation negotiated to replace PIMA with a three-person panel, appointed by a 12-person committee, six of whom would have been appointed by the Council of the Order of Australia, three appointed by the journalists’ union and three appointed by the Australian Press Council. The bill collapsed anyway.

[3] Actually, his phrase was, ” As a senior figure in this government … I know this issue [free speech] doesn’t create one job, doesn’t open one business, doesn’t give anyone one extra hour. It doesn’t make housing more affordable or energy more affordable.”

[4] Dr Woodthorpe previously chaired the National Climate Science Advisory Committee and currently chairs the Government’s “Vision 2040” committee.

[5] Another of the Cook-Lewandowsky papers on “deniers” (Recursive Fury) in 2014 was retracted by its hosting journal, Frontiers.

[6] Paltridge from 1990 to 2002 was professor and director of the Institute of Antarctic and Southern Oceans Studies at the University of Tasmania and at the same time, from 1991–2002, chief executive officer of the Antarctic Co-operative Research Centre at the University of Tasmania.

[7] From October 14  to January 28 the HRC  website had nothing to say about the country’s wave of “Gas the Jews/Where’s the Jews?” anti-Semitism, though it had earlier spent four years hounding and legally impoverishing some blameless QUT students who’d objected to being kicked out of an Aboriginal-only computer room. On January 29 it posted this sludge,

The Commission is extremely concerned about reports of rising incidents of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazi rallies, Islamophobia, anti-Arab and anti-Palestinian racism. We will continue to support and engage with all communities in our society for an Australia free from racial hatred, discrimination, and unlawful harassment.

On February 19 it announced 

further anti-racism work to support communities in Australia affected by the war in Gaza and the Middle East, supported by a $2 million grant from the Commonwealth.  The grant responds to an increase in racism targeting Palestinian, Muslim, Arab, and Jewish communities within Australia since the outbreak of the conflict.

13 thoughts on “The Gag That’s no Laughing Matter

  • brandee says:

    Once again TT your analysis is extensive, detailed, and necessarily harrowing in historical content.
    Did Scotty from Marketing make another captains pick for a misinformation bill or was it really his “team [that] created the plan in the first place”? Either way bad record for LNP wisdom.

  • DougD says:

    In a speech at the opening of parliament PM Albanese said: “The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a generous offer. Generous. It’s a hand out, just saying please, hold it. Hold it. That’s all people are asking for.”
    Not misinformation. Unvarnished disinformation. And he must have known that. The Uluru Statement itself says: “We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country. When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish.” It makes no bones about what it wants to achieve – power. Pat Anderson was co-chair on the Referendum Council that produced the Uluru Statement and a member of the Referendum Working Group that provided advice to Government on the constitutional amendment and referendum question. She didn’t shy away from the demand for power. She said: “Yes, it has to have some power – and you will give us the power when you vote Yes.”. Her fellow member of both bodies, Professor Megan Davis, said “ The voice to parliament is a structural reform. It is a change to the structure of Australia’s public institutions and would redistribute public power via the Constitution, Australia’s highest law.”
    But Albanese will be immune from sanction under his Misinformation Act. It will only silence his critics. He can continue to lie his head off.

  • Brian Boru says:

    I salute you Tony for your well documented article. Your continuing efforts remind me of the statement by William Jennings Bryan at the 1896 Democrat Convention.
    “The humblest citizen in all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error. “

  • David Isaac says:

    Thank you TT. I can only second the comments above and add that the noose is tightening on free speech everywhere in the West, which is after all the only place that really puts much store in it. This bill, if passed, would leave us utterly at rhe mercy of the WEF and its backers.

  • en passant says:

    Don’t bother asking me why I am moving in May to the freedom of Communist Vietnam … Now there is a PARADOX!

  • James McKenzie says:

    In 1963, then fifteen of age, as an apprentice at RAF Halton met a Rhodesian in my Entry who expressed his horror of our censorship: that was my awakening. Later, took up German language lessons in NW Wales and the first lesson we had “Was to Keep the Red Flag Flying”: since, never a voice to the contrary. Then, Julian Gillard elected’.

  • pmprociv says:

    Thanks yet again, Tony, for your tireless picking apart of such disgusting entrails. I was inspired to check out those Fort Denison tide levels, and came across an impeccable, most reliable, source:

    It indicates sea levels in Sydney Harbour to have risen all of 130 mm over the last 140 years, and at a very steady rate. That’s less than 1 mm p.a., far less than the average 5 mm p.a. rise globally (125 m total) over the 25K years since the last ice age peak. That fits perfectly with the hypothesis that sea levels continue rising in the ongoing slow recovery from that ice age. Unless Sydney Harbour is somehow barricaded from the outside world . . .

    Pacific islands’ political leaders are dining out lavishly on victimhood and our feelings of guilt, yet it’s common knowledge that atoll land (mainly coral sand) always deposits just above sea-level (unless the underlying tectonic plate happens to push it upwards, when it rises to form a makatea). Their fundamental problem is massive human population growth, forcing them to build roads and housing closer to the ocean (and to emigrate, of course).

    I’d guess those distinguished and impartial ATSE members, being mainly academics experienced in attracting big research dollars, would be fully aware on which side their bread is buttered; and, being only human, would not be averse to sticking their snouts into any passing, fashionable trough. The last thing you’d want to do, when seeking funds, is to challenge the orthodoxy; best to stay amidst the comfortable herd on the bandwagon. Just about everything published these days, even in medical journals, seems compelled to tell us how things will only worsen with “climate change”. Just look at the recent NHMRC guidelines about the evils of eating meat – nothing at all to do with nutrition and personal health.

  • Stephen Due says:

    We live in the information age. We have an abundance of that glittering, evanescent product, which evaporates like the dew with the sun in the morning. It pours afresh through the speakers and screens in our homes, cars, and handbags each day. But just like the bottled organge juice, that we are assured by the label is ‘squeezed fresh daily’, it is not necessarily fresh today. In fact it is mostly quite old. And it is always the same colour and flavour, because otherwise it would not meet our expectations. Hence the ‘news’ is always really the established ‘narrative’ or a variant thereof. People accept as authoritative whatever is the most repeated content of the current ‘news’ themes. The problem, in so far as there is one, is not ‘misinformation’. The problem rather is the fact the average human is relatively defenceless against repeated exposure to the same message. While this fact explains the felt need to protect the population against ‘misinformation’, it also explains why it is very likely that the people who are deciding what needs to be censored are themselves the unwitting agents of an equally untrustworthy belief system.
    It is helpful to be aware of the danger. Real problems arise, however, when people with power treat the search for truth with contempt, and cynically drive policy through enforcement of what is actually an unreliable media narrative. Political power today, based on constantly repeated propaganda from government and its media allies, is increasingly disconnected from reality. This places the public at risk from the enforcement of irrational policy on a vast scale – as we saw during the late ‘pandemic’, and will continue to see with measures related to ‘climate’.

  • Twyford Hall says:

    Thank you Tony.

    • mrsfarley2001 says:

      Yes – once again, thank you TT. It’s weird though, being reminded of recent and disgraceful history. Grateful not to have been in Victoria during COVID, getting fired upon by uniformed goons & thugs. Our huge Perth rallies, though numbering in the tens/hundreds of thousands of participants, were simply ignored by local MSM.
      Censorship, from media hacks, slavishly determined to follow the narrative.

  • Ceres says:

    Congratulations Tony on a brilliant forensic examination of this proposed demonic legislation.
    Only bright spot is HRC President Rosalind Croucher who has monstered the censorship-lovers. Who else is speaking up to knock this on the head? Hope you get a gig on Sky to talk to Rohan Dean or Andrew Bolt, Tony.

    • Garry Donnelly says:

      I loved this article TT. Well written and researched, as usual.
      The comments of Ceres reflect my thoughts. Mr. average Australian seems to be the target of power hungry politicians and bureaucrats.
      As a grandparent, I see first hand the results of the indoctrination of school children, uni students and their teachers with woke ideologies instigated and applauded by an academic industry that thrives on government handouts for their faux reasoning. This faux reasoning is to be protected by the proposed misinformation legislation.

  • Sindri says:

    Robert Conquest said that “the simplest way to explain the behaviour of any bureaucratic organisation is to assume that it is controlled by a cabal of its enemies”. Seems to me that the same can be said about nations.

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