Brendan O’Neill has revealed himself as the 21st century’s Joseph Banks, reporting back to England on the flora and fauna that inhabits Australia’s strange cultural landscape. He writes in Spiked:
Australia contains what must surely count as the most exotic, rarely sighted creature of the twenty-first century: a politician who believes in freedom of speech. Extinct in Europe, seriously endangered in America, this most hunted of the modern era’s political beasts still survives Down Under, and it goes by the name of George Brandis.
In an interview with O’Neill, the Attorney-General stood by his statement on the rights of bigots.
‘I don’t regret saying that because in this debate, sooner or later – and better sooner than later – somebody had to make the Voltaire point; somebody had to make the point [about] defending the right to free speech of people with whom you profoundly disagree.’
Brandis told O’Neill that Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which he intends to repeal, expands the authority of state into the realm of
‘There is a deeper question here, about the role of the state. To what extent should the state be the arbiter of what people can think? Now of course, the state is the arbiter of what people can do. The state, to use the most straightforward example imaginable, prohibits murder. It is the role of government to protect the weak from the strong. But this is about whether it is the role of government to tell people what they may think. In my view, freedom of speech, by which I mean the freedom to express and articulate beliefs and opinions, is a necessary and essential precondition of political freedom.’
O’Neill is in Australia as scholar in residence at the Centre for Independent Studies. He and I will be discussing The Age of Endarkenment on Thursday, May 1 in Sydney. Many thanks to Bill Leak for his apt illustration.