A bit convoluted, but here goes. Mark Steyn has an article, Medieval Moralists, in which he quotes from an interview with George Brandis conducted by Brendan O’Neill which may be found in a posting with the heading, Free Speech Now. This is the passage Steyn has taken from that Brandis interview with O’Neill:
Brandis says he’s been a fan of free speech for ages. He reminds me that in his maiden speech to the Senate, given 14 years ago when he was first elected as senator for Queensland, he let everyone know that ‘one of my most fundamental objectives would be to protect freedom of thought and expression’. He tells me he has long been agitated by ‘the cultural tyranny of political correctness’. But there were two recent, specific things that made him realise just what a mortal threat freedom of speech faces in the modern era and that he would have to dust down his Mill, reread his Voltaire, and up the ante in his war of words against, as he puts it, the transformation of the state into ‘the arbiter of what might be thought’. The first thing was the climate-change debate; and the second is what is known down here as The Andrew Bolt Case.
He describes the climate-change debate – or non-debate, or anti-debate, to be really pedantic but also accurate – as one of the ‘great catalysing moments’ in his views about the importance of free speech. He isn’t a climate-change denier; he says he was ‘on the side of those who believed in anthropogenic global warming and who believed something ought to be done about it’. But he has nonetheless found himself ‘really shocked by the sheer authoritarianism of those who would have excluded from the debate the point of view of people who were climate-change deniers’. He describes as ‘deplorable’ the way climate change has become a gospel truth that you deny or mock at your peril, ‘where one side [has] the orthodoxy on its side and delegitimises the views of those who disagree, rather than engaging with them intellectually and showing them why they are wrong’.
He describes how Penny Wong, the Labor Party senator for South Australia and minister for climate change in the Julia Gillard government, would ‘stand up in the Senate and say “The science is settled”. In other words, “I am not even going to engage in a debate with you”. It was ignorant, it was medieval, the approach of these true believers in climate change…’
The great irony to this new ‘habit of mind’, he says, is that the eco-correct think of themselves as enlightened and their critics as ‘throwbacks’, when actually ‘they themselves are the throwbacks, because they adopt this almost theological view, this cosmology that eliminates from consideration the possibility of an alternative opinion’. The moral straitjacketing of anyone who raises a critical peep about eco-orthodoxies is part of a growing ‘new secular public morality’, he says, ‘which seeks to impose its views on others, even at the cost of political censorship’.
And as for free speech being free, if you go to the article you can find a bit of first-person experience shared by Steyn in replying to some Canadian nong, Adam Stirling, who finds it a bit tedious to hear Steyn go on about free speech:
The only reason Master Stirling can read me in a Canadian national newspaper is because Maclean’s and I fought a long, hard public battle and won it! And we’ve got seven-figure legal bills to prove it! How funny is that?
And therein lies a tale, which Steyn’s article also discusses.
UPDATE: Here is Mark Steyn again discussing the slow death of free speech. It all needs to be read but here is a bit from the middle:
I’m opposed to the notion of official ideology — not just fascism, Communism and Baathism, but the fluffier ones, too, like ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘climate change’ and ‘marriage equality’. Because the more topics you rule out of discussion — immigration, Islam, ‘gender fluidity’ — the more you delegitimise the political system. As your cynical political consultant sees it, a commitment to abolish Section 18C is more trouble than it’s worth: you’ll just spends weeks getting damned as cobwebbed racists seeking to impose a bigots’ charter when you could be moving the meter with swing voters by announcing a federal programmne of transgendered bathroom construction. But, beyond the shrunken horizons of spinmeisters, the inability to roll back something like 18C says something profound about where we’re headed: a world where real, primal, universal rights — like freedom of expression — come a distant second to the new tribalism of identity-group rights.