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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Sunday, July 18, 2010

My letter to the prime minister - have you written yours?

Subject: Censorship
Dear Prime Minister,

I remain concerned about the government's plans to introduce further
censorship of the internet, and about the issues of censorship and freedom of
expression more generally. In particular, I remain angry about the highly
unhelpful response by the former prime minister to the attacks on Bill
Henson, and on the arts community in general, only two years ago.

In my view, there is no issue more important than the long-term protection
and extension of liberal freedoms. There has been far too much retreat from
strict application of the Millian harm principle and the principle of freedom
of speech and expression. This has affected many areas of government policy
under Prime Ministers Howard and Rudd. The current proposals to censor the
internet are of particular concern, given the endless possibility to use the
proposed mechanisms to censor expression that goes far beyond what is claimed
to be the main target: i.e., child pornography.

If child pornography is operating at a level that is causing genuine anxiety
within the government - and this is not just a matter of moral panic - then
more funding should be devoted to ordinary law enforcement to attack the
problem. However, the concept of child pornography must be kept within fairly
narrow limits, so that it can never attach to legitimate artistic images,
such as those created by Henson or the image of Olympia Papapetrou that was
used on the cover of a 2008 issue of Arts Monthly. In any event, it is likely
that child pornography is not spread mainly via publicly-accessible websites,
and that internet censorship will have little effect on it. If so, the
government's current proposals are a dangerous waste of resources.

We need to be confident that whatever steps are taken by the new government
will enhance, rather than further reduce, freedom of speech and expression.
If any measures are introduced, they must be protected from scope creep.
Restrictions on speech relating to such issues as euthanasia must be
liberalised, not hardened up. Importantly, Senator Conroy must stop attacking
free speech advocates as friends of pedophiles - this repeated slur has
caused enormous ill-will towards the government, to the extent where many of
us have lost all confidence in Senator Conroy and hope that he will be
removed from his current portfolio. That is obviously not possible during the
election period, but the signals from both him and yourself during the coming
weeks will be watched closely.

I hope that you will continue to give serious consideration to these matters
as 21 August approaches. Frankly, I am not eager to vote for the Opposition,
and will likely give my first preference to a minor party. Exactly how I vote
will, however, depend heavily on the responses of the major parties to free
speech issues. I need to know that these issues are taken seriously and that
I can look forward to further extension of our liberal freedoms, not to a
retreat into the mentality of censorship.

Yours sincerely,

Russell Blackford


Zachary Voch said...

Dear Prime Minister,

I'm an American.



Zach Voch

On second thought, perhaps I shouldn't write a letter.

DM said...

make sure your atheist prime minister gets the msg....

Ergun Coruh said...
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Ergun Coruh said...

Well said Russell and timely too.

I think in the short time remaining the PM will likely to avoid progressive issues prone to populist abuse by Abbott. Ironically such lack of stance would make Labor a populist party too. After all what values do remain to make us believe that Labor is different?

As you rightly put we all deserve to see a sign, just one sign that she would replace Rudd's bigoted and pigheaded policies with progressive ones on and around the issues you have mentioned.

By the looks of it either she is no different than Rudd or she doesn't have the guts nor backing to make policy changes, or worst she is as populist as Abbott.

Confronted with such uncertainties I am afraid my vote will have to stay evergreen.

Colin said...

Have you checked out the list of blocked websites on Wikilinks?

Shatterface said...

I hope Australia's Labour Party is a damn site more liberal than the Labour Party in the UK.

Rupert said...

As a rule Shatterface our Labor Party has been a little less inclined towards 'social conditioning'. There are some alarming signs though. Obviously this topic plus the way some 'health and wellbeing' programs are justified and presented. What has surprised me of late is the number of absolute godbots within the party.

Robert N Stephenson said...

As much as I see there is a point to be made, I feel there is far more to be addressed at this time, and yes I have written a letter, or an open letter which some have seen a draft of.

Censorship isn't an issue at this time, and I must confess it probably won't be for a long time unless someone like Abbott takes the reigns.

Sure, write in protest - but the environment, Health, gay rights, welfare and aged pensions are all up ahead of this and I'd like to think we would approach the lots of people over the lot of our ideals

DM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rupert said...

I think that approach may be a little naiive Robert -

(bloody hell! I've always thought that naiive was spelt naiive, not naive - am I wrong or has bloody american spelling ruined everything - why must I be able to spell in two languages just to blog on australian and american sites)

anyway - some of the other topics you mentioned could be affected by an internet filter, particularly gay rights and the environment. Remember Howard and the 'if you comment we'll remove your funding' policy which impacted on various groups operating with social agendas? Too often it is about controlling the debate.

MosesZD said...

I'd have pointed out that every ban scheme tried to mankind has failed. Pedophiles and other sorts, at whom this law is aimed, will just get right on by it..

All the information necessary to circumvent a ban is on the Internet...