Op-Ed: Whay are Governments spending so much money policing our speech?

The Albanese Government’s attempt to make itself the arbiter of truth with its Orwellian ‘Misinformation’ Bill has thrown a spotlight onto the establishment’s desire to limit free speech in Australia.

As the government struggles with the core essentials like keeping the lights on, maintaining a functional defence force, and bringing down the cost-of-living, and with the intergenerational report painting an even more dire picture of Australia’s ability to pay for core services into the future, it’s past time to ask – who on earth thought it was a good idea for the state to spend so much time and money policing our speech?

“Misinformation” is just the latest in a series of buzzwords used to justify a pervasive form of big brother governance that the public never asks for but which we all pay for. Supposedly for the greater good, the government tells us we must tackle these dangerous threats with yet another round of new laws and powers for bureaucrats ready to spring into action at the first sign of free speech.

It's no coincidence that these state-sponsored speech crackdowns always end up being used to shut down critics of the government and bureaucracy’s agenda.

Three years ago this week, Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commissioner placed me under investigation following a complaint about an opinion article in the Hobart Mercury I’d written on the topic of free speech and cancel culture.

Reflecting on the appalling abuse and threats of violence author JK Rowling had been subjected to, I expressed my opinion (look away if you’re easily offended) that males shouldn’t be entering women’s sports and women’s facilities.

I’d suggest that few Australians disagree with this statement, and even fewer would think taxpayer funds should be spent investigating someone for saying it. Yet the Tasmanian Commissioner saw fit to accept a complaint that my words could be “offensive, intimidating, insulting, ridiculing or humiliating” to the man who complained.

The Commission’s ‘investigation’ was a ludicrous waste of public money (the complainant abandoned the complaint when I refused to sign a confidentiality agreement to prevent me from speaking about it). But by accepting such complaints, even against the most benign and common-sense statements, anti-discrimination bodies run protection for ideological policies adopted by governments and the bureaucracy.

Not long before the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner launched the investigation into me, I’d been in the news for challenging the ‘guidelines’ Sport Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission created pushing the highly contested proposition that males identifying as women should be able to compete in women’s competitions, as opposed to what most regard as the sensible approach of limiting eligibility for female sport to those of the female sex. Threatening people with legal action just for saying that this is unfair and unsafe for women and girls is a perfect tactic for the Australian bureaucracy to protect itself and its positions from scrutiny.

To prove this point, my position that males shouldn’t be competing in women’s sport has now been adopted by World Athletics, World Aquatics, World Rugby and the UCI. But Australia’s top sports bureaucrats continue to hold out and are happy to use Commonwealth discrimination law to keep Australian sporting codes in line with their ideological position.

The same threats of legal action and restrictions on journalistic scrutiny have protected misguided and dangerous policy in other areas. Many Australians are only now starting to find out that experts all around the world are raising major concerns with the lack of evidence and dangerous side effects of giving children puberty blockers and cross sex hormones. In Scotland, revelations the government placed a male rapist in a women’s prison caused a huge public outcry and brought about an admission that doing so is dangerous and wrong. Yet the exact same thing has happened in Victoria and the media is so frightened of complaints that it’s barely been reported.

Restricting people from public criticism of government decisions is not only anti-democratic and authoritarian, it results in dangerously bad policy when terrible ideas are shielded from normal scrutiny. It’s in all of our interests for Australia to stop spending public money and resources on policing free speech and punishing critics.

*This opinion piece appeared on the Spectator online on 29 August 2023.