Let free speech and com­mon sense pre­vail

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - NEWS - MI­RANDA DEVINE

Here’s an idea for a flag­ging gov­ern­ment to win over a sullen elec­torate — a Min­is­ter for Com­mon Sense. This min­is­ter’s sole role would be to abol­ish red tape and kill off the quan­gos that erode our free­doms and sap our ini­tia­tive. First job would be to get rid of the plethora of anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion bod­ies around the coun­try, from the Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion to var­i­ous state anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion boards.

In­stead of slic­ing us up into ever more vic­tim groups whose feel­ings need to be pro­tected, let us re­solve our con­flicts our­selves in the usual way of civilised so­ci­eties — by for­giv­ing each other, evolv­ing so­cial norms and gain­ing un­der­stand­ing in the process, with­out the heavy hand of the leg­isla­tive thought po­lice re­duc­ing us to hope­less ci­phers of the state.

We have now reached the ab­surd point where a drag queen who called his trans­gen­der neigh­bour in a Syd­ney pub­lic hous­ing block a “fat man in a dress” was dragged be­fore the NSW Civil and Ad­min­is­tra­tive Tri­bunal and found guilty of “trans­gen­der vil­i­fi­ca­tion” un­der anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion leg­is­la­tion.

This triv­ial neigh­bour­hood squab­ble re­quired the tri­bunal to hold a hear­ing and a case con­fer­ence in 2015, with vo­lu­mi­nous doc­u­ments filed by both par­ties. Fi­nally, af­ter much de­lib­er­a­tion, the 6000-word de­ci­sion was handed down by three mem­bers of the tri­bunal, who found the drag queen guilty as charged and com­manded he pub­lish a re­trac­tion within 21 days or pay a $2000 fine.

Monty Python could not have scripted it bet­ter.

Then there was the case of the thug con­victed of as­sault oc­ca­sion­ing ac­tual bod­ily harm for bash­ing an­other man in a Syd­ney night­club. He was fined $1100 for the as­sault.

But when the vic­tim com­plained to the Anti-Dis­crim­i­na­tion Board that the as­sailant also had called him a “fag­got”, the fine levied was far greater — $10,000 for ho­mo­sex­ual vil­i­fi­ca­tion.

How did of­fen­sive speech be­come a worse crime than phys­i­cal vi­o­lence?

What­ever the well-mean­ing rea­sons for es­tab­lish­ing anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion bod­ies in the first place, they in­fan­tilise the pop­u­lace and ren­der them in­ca­pable of re­solv­ing sim­ple in­ter­per­sonal dis­putes.

But even worse, they have be­come an ide­o­log­i­cal blud­geon to crim­i­nalise speech and re­press cer­tain ideas.

No one demon­strates the case bet­ter than Ber- nard Gaynor, the dec­o­rated for­mer Iraq war vet­eran and Queens­land fa­ther of eight who is qui­etly be­ing mar­tyred by LGBTIQ ac­tivists on the al­tar of an­tidis­crim­i­na­tion leg­is­la­tion.

So far, this six-year saga has in­volved more than 80 sep­a­rate le­gal ac­tions, and has wended its way through the the High Court, anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion tri­bunals, lo­cal courts and the Fed­eral Court, with yet an­other de­ci­sion loom­ing next month.

It all be­gan with Gaynor tweet­ing in 2013 that: “I wouldn’t let a gay per­son teach my chil­dren and I am not afraid to say it.”

The con­se­quences of that tweet and Gaynor’s re­fusal to back down have been dire.

He was sacked by the Army and has been hit with 36 dis­crim­i­na­tion com­plaints by gay ac­tivist Gary Burns, who is backed by pro-bono le­gal teams.

So far it has cost Gaynor his house and al­most $400,000 in le­gal fees, with crowd-sourced do­na­tions to his blog the only way that he has stayed sol­vent.

He faces hefty fines and he even fears jail, al­though he has pre­vailed in al­most ev­ery ac­tion so far.

You can dis­ap­prove of Gaynor’s or­tho­dox Catholic line on sex­ual mat­ters but, if the state can fa­cil­i­tate this cam­paign against one man’s free speech, no one is safe.

At no stage has any of the pub­lic ser­vants ad­min­is­ter­ing this cir­cus called time on what is clearly a cam­paign.

The bru­tal anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion ma­chin­ery grinds on, re­gard­less of com­mon sense.

“The rea­son anti-dis­crim­i­na­tion laws ex­ist is con­ser­va­tive politi­cians are too afraid to say ‘No’ and the Left want them be­cause it gives them power over so­ci­ety,” Gaynor says.

Burns, who says that he has suf­fered ho­mo­sex­ual vil­i­fi­ca­tion in his past, de­serves sym­pa­thy but Gaynor should be al­lowed to de­fend his be­liefs — as of­fen­sive as they might be — with­out be­ing per­se­cuted by the state.

This is not the way to re­solve his hurt, for gov­ern­ment-funded quan­gos to waste valu­able court time drag­ging an Army vet­eran through the wringer be­cause of some un­pleas­ant words he has ut­tered.

What­ever hap­pened to the old adage “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me”?

That’s com­mon sense worth pro­tect­ing.

Gary Burns.

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