Erstwhile free speech warriors have been falling over one another to gloat about the sacking of SBS soccer commentator Scott McIntyre. While the IPA built its brand on defending Andrew Bolt when he was found to have breached the Racial Discrimination Act, the McIntyre case has led them to gleefully call for SBS to be defunded.
Whether you think McIntyre’s comments about Anzac Day were factually and historically defensible, compare them with the comments about Indigenous Australians that landed Andrew Bolt in the dock.
And unlike those cheering his dismissal, McIntyre has a discernible expertise in the matters he usually comments on, namely soccer in south-east Asia. He is not a mere ideologue.
Malcolm Turnbull has denied directly interfering in an internal disciplinary matter, but the stench around this may not abate for some time. SBS’s reprehensible cowardice in the face of uproar from the political right is disastrous.
It affords de facto recognition of the idea that media workers may not have private views on public matters, and pushes the absurd recent sacralisation of Anzac Day to a point where anything but full-throated celebration of heroism is impermissible.
Strangely, the man who gets paid $389,000 a year plus benefits to safeguard freedom of speech is comfortable with all of this. Yesterday, in response to demands from taxpayers that he do his job, Freedom Commissioner Tim Wilson tweeted out a link to an article he wrote last year for the Fairfax press.
In that piece Wilson was endorsing the gagging of public servants by a new code of conduct devised by the Abbott government. He began by patronising his readers and the people who pay his wages (“many Australians seem to have no idea what human rights are, and many certainly do not understand what free speech is”) and then made this curious and revealing claim:
Codes of conduct play an enormously important role in filling the gap between what is technically legal, and civilising and normalising behaviour.
Voluntary codes associated with employment are one of the most important ways that we regulate the conduct of the individual without laws, and they are fundamentally a good thing.
People who want a map of the libertarian or “classical liberal” mind without suffering through Chris Berg’s boring books can find it here. Whereas they claim to be fighting for freedom, Wilson’s talk about civilising us and regulating our conduct rather bells the cat.
What it tells us first is that people like Wilson think those of us who actually work for a living need civilising, and the means for doing that is workplace discipline.
As much as any authoritarian, Wilson thinks the conduct of working people – yours and mine – requires regulation. He just wants the power to do that to rest entirely with capital and not the state – as he writes, “without laws”. He doesn’t want you to be free at all, just your boss.
This is why libertarianism has its greatest appeal for people who have never done a day’s work. Wilson’s scheme puts the wealthy firmly in charge of the lower orders, without any pesky democratic interference.
Anyone who has had a job will know that it makes little practical difference if it’s your boss or the state telling you to shut up. Indeed, the restrictions on what we can say which are imposed by our employers feel far more real and immediate to most of us than the distant, abstract machinations of government.
The idea that employment is a purely voluntary contract is much loved by the posh boys and parasites who inhabit rightwing thinktanks. The rest of us know that if you can’t earn a living, you’re screwed. We also know that people who regularly get sacked for speaking their mind will find it increasingly difficult to be hired.
The model of free speech parroted by Wilson and his ilk is nothing more or less than the rule of property: they just want us to be more easily managed. We should reject it, and assert and extend our right – held in common with Scott McIntyre — to speak our minds as citizens on public matters, regardless of what our boss thinks. Any freedom less encompassing than that is not worth its name.