Of all its assaults on decency, honesty, competence and common sense, Communication Minister Stephen Conroy’s assault on free speech represents this dying government at its lowest and most contemptible
Late yesterday afternoon, the Gillard Government announced new legislation to create an overarching media censorship and licensing regime, and bring “government sanctioned journalism” to Australia.
We are on the verge of having the Federal Government dictating what we can and cannot read, and what we can and cannot think.
The brainchild of Senator Stephen Conroy, the man who said he had the power to make telecom bosses wear red underpants on their head, tried to ban the Bolt Report from being aired, said that the Federal Government should be “going to war” against News Limited, and wanted to censor the internet, this proposal is an unprecedented and historic attack on freedom of speech in Australia.
Outside of wartime, no Australian Government has ever come even close to considering restrictions of this magnitude. Together with upcoming changes to our “anti-discrimination laws”, if passed, they represent an end to freedom of speech as we know it. This is not an exaggeration. This is just fact.
There are three main parts to this proposal. Each of them is bad on its own, but together, they spell disaster.
First: It sets up a licensing scheme, granting basic journalistic rights and protections only to those who sign up to a “regulated press standards body”. Those who sign up will be rewarded by the government, through things such as “exemptions from privacy legislation”. Those who don’t will lose these same protections “vital to the capacity of journalists to do their job”.
Second: These bodies will be overseen by a powerful taxpayer-funded super-regulator with a title straight out of Orwell: “The Public Interest Media Advocate”. Whose interest do you think this government-appointed super-regulator will really be advocating? (hint: it won’t be yours or mine!).
Third: A new “public interest” test will be applied for media ownership – and it’s pretty clear: “public interest test” means “political interest test” and will be used by the government “to punish outlets they don’t like.” This is a desire to punish outlets they don’t like, and prevent freedom-oriented media from flourishing.
But that’s not all.
In a further attack on democracy, Senator Conroy will be presenting the Bill to Parliament on Thursday – and is demanding it be passed next week. That’s right: no time for scrutiny, no time for debate, no time for MP’s to even thoroughly read or understand the bill. Sound familiar?
Former Press Council Head Professor Flint compared this to “Soviet regimes” saying “It is dangerous … it will give the government a power it should never have, the power to determine the content of the press.”
News Limited Chief Executive Kim Williams said, “This government will go down in history as the first Australian government outside of wartime to attack freedom of speech by seeking to introduce a regime which effectively institutes government sanctioned journalism” and that it “removes the capacity of journalists to do their job – it is a not-too-sophisticated endeavour to gag the media”
Even traditionally pro-Government Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood said " We can’t see the purpose of further regulation of news publications."
Australians can stop this. The bill is not yet guaranteed passage through Parliament. They do not have the votes – yet.
If enough Australians contact their MP’s and the cross-benchers, we will prevail.
We have set up an easy-to-use online action portal at www.freespeechaustralia.com where you can contact not just your MP, not just your senator, but also all the cross-benchers and demand they oppose this outrageous proposal.
Please, from the bottom of my heart I beg you: take action now – before it is too late. Every message sent WILL make a difference.
I can not help but think about the legacy of the brave men and women who made the supreme sacrifice for us. They paid for our freedom in blood. Did they make the ultimate sacrifice to have a country where the government dictates what we can and can not read or think? Is this what they really bled for? Is this why they fought and died?
Freedom is not just a buzzword. It is not an empty slogan. It isn’t a word to be thrown around without meaning. It is something at the core of what we stand for – or used to.
Freedom was the reason we were so proud to call ourselves Australians. Freedom was the reason my grandparents fled the oppression of Soviet Union to move here. Freedom was who we were.
Don’t let them take it away from us.
Visit www.freespeechaustralia.com and fight back.