Section 18C – if not us, then who?

This is a question that has been pondered by many on countless issues. However, I pose it in relation to the defence of one of our most important freedoms. The one by which all other freedoms are articulated, spread and defended – free speech.

Australia is a nation that invites its citizens to hold and voice a wide range of opinions. While we don’t have an explicit, constitutionally-enshrined right to freedom of speech, we are seen the world over to be one of its most free and democratic countries.

But recent discussions about the now-infamous section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act have thrust this basic issue into the spotlight, over a century after our Federation as a free nation.

Early last month we celebrated Remembrance Day, a sombre occasion that sees us take stock and remember those who gave their lives in service to Australia. A sacrifice made not for their sake, but for that of their children and the future generations of a nation they could only dream of.

I’ve often pondered what it would be like, as a young person, to put your life on the line in order to stand up and protect your country. In an age of safe spaces and pervasive political correctness, the thought of risking life and limb for King and country is a foreign one. Yet now, more than ever, it’s vital that we reflect on the sacrifices made for us.

It’s my firm belief that those heroic young Aussies risked everything not just for their families but because they wanted to see our nation become the most incredible on earth. In so many ways, we can be proud of the country that has been built on their selfless legacy – we can only hope that it is one worthy of their memory.

But when one takes a step back to look at the state of free expression in this country today, that changes. It makes me shudder to think that hundreds and thousands of men and women of all races made the ultimate sacrifice in the name of our country, only to see a basic freedom held hostage by a vocal minority of ‘social justice warriors’.

While some on the extreme Left try to centre this discussion on ideology, I believe that this topic couldn’t be less ideological. This is about all of us. This is about our shared, Australian values – values defended in blood by men and women far braver than us. It’s important to keep in mind exactly how hard Australians have fought for the right of people to express themselves freely, not only in Australia but the world over. They combatted militarism, fascism, communism and socialism for the fundamental notion that all people should enjoy basic human freedoms.

Yet now, we have a law on the books that is being poorly administered by an out of touch and incompetent Human Rights Commission and abused by claimants, to the detriment of that costly – but invaluable – freedom.

 This year alone has seen cartoonist Bill Leak hauled off to the Human Rights Commission by extreme left-wing activists, only after the Race Discrimination Commissioner publicly called for grievances to be lodged. Much to the embarrassment of the HRC, those complaints were dropped and Leak was let off the hook, but only after the expense of thousands of dollars in legal fees.

And it’s not just the powerful who are at risk. We also saw a case brought against four students at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) relating to a series of Facebook posts, which was again thrown out of court. Yet critically, this was only after three long years of the Human Rights Commission denying natural justice at great cost to the young defendants.

Despite repeated polling highlighting strong community support for change, there remain many on the Left who paint all those hoping to abolish section 18C as just another shade of ‘racist’. As a Young Liberal Movement, we can’t back down for fear of this rhetoric, because it belies their total lack of substantive argument.

While section 18C remains in place, the QUT case or the Bill Leak could very well be repeated, and the status of genuinely free speech could again be pulled into doubt by the politically correct Left.

If it isn’t our generation that stands up for freedom of speech, who will? We owe it to ourselves – and also to the many thousands who gave their lives in the name of freedom – to keep fighting.

If we give up, we will do their memory and legacy a great disservice.

Rebecca Didcoe is the Senior Vice-President of the Western Australian Young Liberal Movement.