A few days ago, Melissa Dinnison withdrew from the pursuit of further action against Australian cartoonist, Bill Leak. A pair other, largely manufactured complaints from two Aborigines from the Kimberley, courtesy of taxpayer-funded lawyers, have also been withdrawn. Likewise, the case against the QUT students was comprehensively dismissed in the Federal Court after three years of a tortuous abuse of process by the Human Rights Commission, headed by the smug, self-righteous and memory-challenged Professor Gillian Triggs.
As has been reiterated lately, the process was the punishment — and the process was particularly vicious as it afflicted vulnerable students of limited or no means. Even if we leave aside the breach of the rules by the Human Rights Commission, which left the QUT students totally out of the loop for well over a year, there was the risk that a court judgment could follow the precedent set by Justice Mordechai Bromberg in the case of Andrew Bolt and the “white Aborigines”. Fortunately, the Federal Court set a higher bar for the application of Section 18c than many would have feared. Implicitly, the Human Rights Commission must not have had high expectations the students would be convicted. Otherwise, why would Triggs & Co invoke existing provisions, designed to quickly dismiss vexatious or frivolous complaints?
The mere fact that the complaint process against Leak has been discontinued does not preclude a fresh complainant stepping forwaed. After all, the Human Rights Commission initially appeared very confident that a conviction was highly likely. One can hardly imagine that the hard left, steeped in the tenets of “repressive tolerance”, spawned by Herbert Marcuse from the Frankfurt School which held that only approved “progressive opinion” should be tolerated, would now concede legitimacy to the likes of Leak. For much of the Left, which includes the Greens, the apparent majority in the parliamentary Labor Party and a coterie of left media figures in the ABC, the Fairfax press and academia, the highly subjective provisions in Section 18c serve as intimidatory weapons against opponents.
If Section 18c did not engender the risk of conviction and huge financial penalties for even innocuous remarks, why would those students who chose to settle early have ponied up $5,000 each to complainant Cindy Prior and her taxpayer-funded lawyers in order to avoid the risk of reputational and financial ruin? Will there be recompense now that their fellow students, prepared to run the gauntlet, have been cleared?
What has the Turnbull government said? To the shame of this Prime Minister, the silence has been deafening. Are we to conclude that Mr Turnbull values the esteem of the screeching Left more than he does freedom of speech? Is it moral cowardice, or a simple and amply demonstrated lack of political acumen that inhibits his tongue? Does his insistence on looking the other way in allowing this vile and pernicious law to remain on the books attest to his endorsement of “lawfare” as a means of silencing those who would speak their minds. The answer to all those questions would appear to be n emphatic ‘yes’.
We may celebrate these recent small victories but in the long war for freedom of opinion, we might also say, to borrow from Winston Churchill, that we are only at the end of the beginning. Having implemented its retreat under fire, the Human Rights Commission remains open for business — and that, even more than the craven silence of our Prime Minister, is the real and far greater disgrace.