Why Turnbull Deserves No Credit on Free Speech

Scared, Malcolm? Cartoon by Ryan Fletcher.

Malcolm Turnbull has finally given his approval to a move to reform the abomination that is section 18C of the abhorrent crime against Australia that is the Racial Discrimination Act. The hysterical screaming from ABC radio hosts up and down the land was delicious, like honey to the ear.

But who deserves the credit for this move, one of the few truly right-of-centre acts performed under the Turnbull administration?

Some commentators, including Andrew Bolt, one of the most prominent victims of this vile law, have declared that Malcolm should be lauded for this move, and that credit should be given when credit is due.

I disagree.

It is no secret amongst Liberals that, back when Tony Abbott first tried to push minor reform on free speech, the Member for Wentworth was instrumental in coordinating the leftists within the party and the various powerful ethnic and religious lobby groups outside it to get the changes blocked internally.

The ever-expanding left wing of the Labor Party in Light Blue, whose number includes the magnificent Malcolm, thought it more important to discredit and bring down Abbott than to attempt to move Australia even the tiniest touch towards greater freedom of speech.

Considering that it took the death of a true hero in the person of Bill Leak to shame him into this course of action, and considering also that any changes are likely to be blocked by the leftist fake-populist Nick Xenophon in the Senate, why on earth should Malcolm be given credit for a probably pyrrhic attempt at a goal he helped to block not two years ago?

The few remaining conservatives in the Parliamentary Liberal Party deserve some faint praise for digging down deep into themselves and finding a small and almost forgotten spark of the ideals that they held when they first entered politics. But this wouldn’t have happened if it were only them whining from the backbenches.

The foolishly fickle yet well-funded libertarian autists at the IPA also deserve some credit for keeping this issue on the table. But considering that they backed the overthrow of Abbott for Turnbull in a piece of colossally bad judgement, believing that shorn of backwards conservatives, the Liberals led by the leftist Turnbull would be better for liberty, any praise for them is conditional at best.

Andrew Bolt and others amongst the small but influential pack of right-of-centre Australian journalists can claim a small piece of the prize. Without them the issue would have sunk without a trace, yet if they alone were enough to force the parliamentary party’s hand, it would have happened a long time ago.

As many increasingly nervous sounding leftist publications, blogs and even ABC radio hosts have realised, this wouldn’t have happened without Pauline Hanson.

The two most recent polls, from Newspoll and Essential, have wildly divergent views of the current popularity of the government.

The usually more right-wing-friendly Newspoll has the Coalition rebounding dramatically by three points to be down 52% to 48% in the two party preferred vote, a margin widely considered by political insiders to be within striking distance, particularly this far out from an election.

The generally more left-wing-friendly Essential poll has the Coalition ten points behind on the same measure: 55% to 45%, which if maintained at an election would be a stunning loss.

The truth is likely to be somewhere in between, but one thing has remained stable across both polls in the previous few months, and that is the One Nation vote.

Despite the recent missteps in Western Australia, despite the media frenzy constantly predicting the insurgent party’s demise, despite ABC hosts gloating in the Washington Post, One Nation is consistently polling at around a tenth of the vote regardless of the polling company or other factors. They now consistently poll higher than the Greens in every major national poll in Australia.

Does anyone in their right mind think that the conservatives amongst the Liberals would have been able to push this in the party room if there was no vote-stealing spectre looming at stage right?

James Patterson, the young Senator and IPA scion from Victoria, even openly admitted as such to the ABC on the AM program, stating that fighting to change the wording of section 18C could have political benefits for the Government by tapping into community concerns that free speech was being overly sacrificed for “tolerance”.

The youthful Patterson was refreshingly blunt in stating: “That’s a phenomenon very strong in Queensland and it’s not a coincidence that’s a state where One Nation is doing very well…. We’ve got to get those votes back home to us if they previously voted for us and this is one way to do that.”

This is what Australian patriots have been dreaming of since at least the nineties, of a party to pressure the Liberals in the same way that the Greens pressure Labor, a force on the right that would threaten the only thing that politicians truly love, their votes. Now it’s actually happening. The world is changing.

Whether you believe that ON can stay the course and become a permanent anchor for the right of Australian politics, or whether you believe that they are just the people who have shown that such a thing is possible, it is time to truly give credit where it is due.

Because despite the efforts of tens of thousands of patriots, even this small attempted step towards freedom would not be happening without the tenacious and fiery redhead from Ipswich and her merry band of eccentrics.

It’s a long road yet to come and many battles yet to be had, but now, thanks to them, we can have hope.