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South Australia Law Will Have a Chilling Effect on Political Speech

And one last note on politics. Please welcome your new Internet overlords, Australia. They are hiding in some parliamentary office somewhere at the moment. Since this is a free e-letter, and since there is a clear connection between political freedom and economic freedom, a story from South Australia caught our attention and demands a comment.

A new law has come into effect in South Australia. The law, according to the Adelaide Advertiser, “requires internet bloggers, and anyone making a comment on next month’s state election, to publish their real name and postcode when commenting on the poll.” It effectively prevents anonymous comments on politics on the Internet.

The law “also requires media organisations to keep a person’s real name and full address on file for six months, and they face fines of $5000 if they do not hand over this information to the Electoral Commissioner.” So there you go.

The law’s proponents – not surprisingly incumbents from both parties – say it will prevent defamatory and libellous comments from sullying a high minded public debate about the poll. But last we heard, laws generally punish transgressions of behaviour rather than trying to prevent the behaviour itself by making it illegal (you get fined for speeding when you speed, not for thinking about it).

The law is obviously going to have a chilling effect on political speech. True, there is an argument to be made that if you want to have a healthy democracy, people ought to put a name on the ideas they espouse and be willing to articulate and defend them openly. But there is a long tradition of anonymous political commentary, and for equally democratic reasons.

For example the writers of the Federalist Papers (which were essays and pamphlets on why the separate States should ratify the U.S. Constitution) wrote under the pseudonym “Publius.” Obviously John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison weren’t afraid of the rough and tumble of public life. So why write under a pen name?

The State, or its agents, can exercise all kinds of retribution on those who challenge it. It could be political. It could be economic. Or it could be using the tax collectors to chase down your favourite political enemies. In the hands of the vindictive or the malicious, the tools of State power can be brought to bear on vocal critics.

That’s also why whistleblowers are protected. But really, it shouldn’t matter why someone chooses to remain private when making a public comment. If their argument is about an idea, then the person making the argument doesn’t matter. It’s not an argument made “from authority,” where the force of the person making it carries the day. It’s an argument about an idea.

The fact that South Australia is stifling political speech ought to be embarrassing for Australians. Of course we say that as an American. As a colleague tut-tutted last night, “You Americans get so wound up about freedom of speech. This is just a sensible law that improves the quality of the political discourse in Australia.”

He’s right about one thing. Freedom of speech is not a protected right anywhere in Australia’s constitution. We read up on the matter here. So you don’t have freedom of speech guaranteed anywhere, but you do have an “implied freedom of political communication.”

The problem with an “implied freedom of political communication” is that it is not a positive right above the tampering of the legislature or judiciary. Statutory protections for free speech can be changed by statute (once you get a bunch of legislators riled up). If, however, freedom of speech were part of an Australian Bill of Rights, it would be constitutionally protected and above the tinkering of morons in all branches of government.

We know from experience that many Aussies oppose a bill of rights because they believe it gives the courts and judges more power to determine what “rights” actually are. But the whole point of a bill of rights is that it’s mostly based on “negative” rights, or those things which the government cannot or must not do to you (in most circumstances).

To the extent that rights are positive in a bill of rights, they are things the government MUST do to protect you, like offer you a trial by jury of your peers, or not hold you in jail for too long without charging you for a crime. To be fair, having a bill of rights doesn’t insure the government won’t violate these rights. But at least you can take it to court and win.

And yes, taking the government to court to protect your rights probably does promote a more litigious society. But so what? That’s not the sort of objection that invalidates the idea of bill of rights. Liberty is worth defending, isn’t it? C’mon Australia. Stand up for yourself!

It’s better to have the rule of law operating to protect speech and to have way to hold the government accountable for its infringements on your liberties than to have your speech shut down by politicians who want to bully their opposition into silence through coercion.

Intellectual coercion is a second cousin of physical coercion. Once you concede the principle that the government can censor what you say…well…you’ve conceded an awful lot. What do we know though? We’re neither a lawyer nor a climatologist. Just a “carpetbagger with a modem,” as one reader wrote. Until tomorrow.

Dan Denning
for The Daily Reckoning Australia

Dan Denning
Dan Denning is the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Reckoning Australia and the author of 2005’s best-selling The Bull Hunter (John Wiley & Sons). He began his financial publishing career in 1997 as a small-cap analyst. From 2000 to 2005 he was the managing editor of Strategic Investment, where he recommended gold and warned of the US housing bubble. Dan has covered financial markets from Baltimore, Paris, London and, beginning in 2005, Melbourne Australia, where he is the Publisher of Port Phillip Publishing. To follow Dan's financial world view more closely you can subscribe to The Daily Reckoning for free here. If you’re already a Daily Reckoning subscriber, then we recommend you also join him on Google+. It's where he shares investment research, commentary and ideas that he can't always fit into his regular Daily Reckoning emails.

23 Comments

  1. Sambo says:

    Bye bye free speech!

  2. SBD says:

    Aussies standing up for their rights? Not anymore, I find that talking about such things amidst my peers (40′ish) brings responses of, You can’t do that mate. Yeah, but you cant do anything about it. Etc.. The values of the previous generations of the Aussie standing up for himself seem to have whimpered down to an inaudible mutter amongst the urban communities. True Aussie spirit lingers in the countryside, but feels its futile.

    I wonder if the “Australian Values” we used to pride ourselves on which I believe derived from our inheritance of those that stood up to oppressive governments through choice or necessity (ie. convicts and immigrants from England) has been diluted too far by time, immigration, and world wars (with wars removing those prepared to give their lives for their beliefs). My grandfather swore never to return to England, having been there I can see what he talked about, the passive acceptance of “the way things are” was an attitude I couldn’t comprehend. End result both there and here, People get the governments they deserve I guess.

    I wouldn’t concede the principle that government can censor, I do admit the reality tho. In principle they shouldnt be able to, in reality they do.
    We have lots of topics that arent fit for discussion. They are finally quietly admitting the stolen generation was done to all of Australia, not just Aboriginals.
    How about the can’t talk about it attitude regarding the personal wealth of Howard and Keating after leaving office. Within a few years going from 5-10million, to 3-500million. Guess it was just due their (self proclaimed) abilities as Australia’s smartest prime ministers? Ironicaly I have also heard this mentioned on the radio as a no go topic.

    Good article Dan, Not enough Australians have the balls to do anything about it anymore tho. Sweetmeats must be the new export.
    Resistance tactics remain, with internet rants a poor component.

  3. Ned S says:

    Yap, Yap … :)

  4. Ned S says:

    Come on PB … But a bit of effort into it. Bend your back son!

    Yap, Yap! :)

  5. James says:

    Love your work Dan, but you just haven’t done your research on this one.

    The “freedom of political communication” implied by the Westminster structure in the constitution IS above the tampering of the legislature.. refer to the Australian Capital Television case, where the Keating government’s political advertising laws were struck down by the High Court.

  6. Stillgotshoeson says:

    1. Fascism
    1. A system of government marked by centralization of authority under a dictator, stringent socioeconomic controls, suppression of the opposition through terror and censorship, and typically a policy of belligerent nationalism and racism.
    2. A political philosophy or movement based on or advocating such a system of government.
    2. Oppressive, dictatorial control.

  7. DaveG says:

    “bye-bye free speech”? Don’t you get it, we never had it in the first place. We labour under the delusion that we have free speech in this country, but we only have speech that is tolerated until legislated against.

    Even in the US, where free speech is supposedly guaranteed under the 1st Amendment, has been limited under certain situations to “free speech” zones. Yes, it is tyranny, and yes it needs to be resisted.

  8. MadJak says:

    Dan,

    Seems to me that any blogs wanting to comment on the SA elections just need to be hosted on a website housed outside of Oz.

    This is what the people railing against the censorship of the internet here in Australia are doing (their ISP told them to shut down because the comms minister was unhappy, so they just host it in the US now).

  9. Dan says:

    And then with the national net filter it will be illegal to access said sites, MadJak.

  10. peterg says:

    MadJak, sure you can do that for now, but keep in mind the end game… a new world order with no safe havens. also, there’s ways around it, but will it provide censororship for most people who don’t go to so much trouble. with their secret tappings and economic crisis to come, for how long will the US abide by their constitution (under possible martial law). bottom line, censorship like this must be stopped now before it spreads.

  11. michael says:

    Does anyone really give a shit about the SA election?

  12. Bargeass says:

    A law straight from the International Communist Manifesto.
    No doubt the pollies will have to take an all expences paid study trip to China, North Korea, Vietnam, Venezuala, Iran etc

  13. SBD says:

    They gave up and backpedaled furiously…
    http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/victory-atkinson-loosens-gag/story-e6frea6u-1225826104175
    The law is going to be retroactively repealed.

    I wonder if the federal labor party told them to stop it, cant have the state labor party censoring the internet, when they are trying to claim the federal internet filter wont be used for censorship.

  14. Lachlan says:

    Censorship will keep progressing for the time being but complete control by a New World Order will not be the future IMO. A high level of control by the NWO exists in the present. The future will be more about the natural failure of this attempt. Controlling people is as impossible as controlling the climate. Rome failed, the second Rome will too. Wouldn’t worry about it for even a minute. Interesting subject but that’s all.

  15. Dan says:

    Yeah it’s only worth worrying about once you can’t take a crap in peace any more, and then end up in prison for complaining about it, doing hard labour, leaving your wife and kids left to make a living for themselves.

  16. Lachlan says:

    I agree with you Dan, we should only worry after the event.

  17. Dan says:

    Haha Lachlan nice spin. Yeah they will screw it up, like they screwed up the Soviet Union – but it would have been much better had they never gotten a foothold in the first place.

  18. Sambo says:

    You really need to start worrying about it when the armed forces start getting paid a lot better than everyone else. Technology as it is now, it is conveniently easy to monitor people by satellite. If your Government wanted to of course.

  19. Lachlan says:

    Yeah Dan, I oughta write propaganda for these NWO jokers and make a packet.
    People can and do suffer everyday from the above mentioned. Their grief is valid but it was unavoidable. They feared these events but neither did it change their future.
    My “totalitarianism will fail” parable…
    There was a greenhouse full of tomatoes. A farmer borrowed a heap of money to set it up. By controlling the crop growing conditions (nutrients,water,atmospheric conditions etc) he thought he could maximise returns, make lots of money and live in comfort. When the profits failed to materialise he borrowed more to increase control. This happened many times. Unfortunately it was beyond the productive limits of the crop to offset the very high inputs and the venture began to fail. The crop both suffered as controls were turned off and wound down. The farmer was forced to move on, now insolvent. The seeds from the left over fruit remained in the ground after the greenhouse was removed. They grew and produced a crop after rain. Passers by ate the fruit but they were still hungry when the fruit were finished.

    An end game, global scenario of Orwellian magnitude is unaffordable according to my thought.

  20. Lachlan says:

    Technology is amazing stuff. The more you make the faster you can produce more. Maybe perfection is practically possible? Alas no because human nature never changes. One king may be fair. But two or three in a row rarely. Eventually they take what they want.
    Big government/corp.fascists steal the benefit of technology. It is funding their agendas.
    Are we who are ruled somehow different? How do we relate to one another from day to day?

  21. Dan says:

    I hope you’re right, Lachlan. Insightful commentary by the way :)

  22. MadJak says:

    Sorry for the late response you fellas,

    Yes, Hosting offshore is not a long term solution – I agree totally – particularly with the net filter happenning. But until that does happen, it’s a way to workaround things, while we still can.

  23. brc says:

    Well, one thing is certain. Between this and the Federal internet censorship (filtering) you can be sure that politicians are dead scared of the internet and it’s abilities to spread information faster than a politicians PR team. We haven’t yet seen it, but in the future there will come a time where an internet story (completely independent of mainstream media outlets) will take down a government. They know it, and they don’t like it.

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