Queensland Liberals are taking a leaf out of the Howard-Costello playbook on crunching free speech for charities and non-government organisations. Just after we published my book chapter on Howard’s multi-pronged attack on free speech led by the IPA, readers advised that Campbell Newman was copying Howard’s policy of gagging NGOs who received government funding.
Federal Labor removed Howard’s gag clauses when it came to power, and has now introduced legislation to ban them in federal government contracts with NGOs. It will be fascinating to see how the Coalition votes, given its outspoken rejection of strengthened self regulation by the mainstream media, and its support for blatant abuses of power by Murdoch newspapers.
On Wednesday, in response to the government’s media reform proposals, Abbott tweeted:
We shall see.
In the meantime, several readers have tweeted a piece from the Webdiary archive on Peter Costello’s changing views on the right to free speech in opposition and Government. So here it is, with the note that he now Newman’s mentor.
As Peter Costello tries to hose down his incendiary assault on free speech through tying tax relief for charities to their willingness to drop or downgrade public advocacy for the underprivileged and the powerless, perhaps he’ll take time to reflect on what he used to believe in.
Back in 1992 Costello, then shadow Attorney-General, led a vigorous campaign on free speech grounds against the Labor government’s law banning political advertising on television and radio. In the end, the High Court threw out the laws after finding that the Australian Constitution guaranteed citizens the right to free speech on political matters.
When I interviewed Costello on the ramifications of the High Court’s finding, he called on Labor to establish a parliamentary rights and freedoms committee to ensure that legislation contrary to human rights did not become law. He said the Courts should not be forced to protect our rights and freedoms, and had done so because Parliament had failed in its duty to do so. (See article republished below)
The High Court was activist in those days, and has since retreated from protecting citizens rights by constitutional implication as the Howard government began stacking the Court with legal conservatives.
At the time, Justice Toohey said there were virtually no parliamentary checks on “arbitrary government”, and that the judiciary would limit abuse of power by implying constitutional protections of “core liberal-democratic values”. Read the rest of this entry »