The self-indulgent 'free speech' advocates are anything but

Amanda Vanstone
Updated May 23 2024 - 9:24pm, first published 5:30am

As a kid in the 1950s I was too ignorant to understand why granny would sit watching the Anzac march on black and white TV with tears trickling down her face. As kids we knew to say nothing and get her a cup of tea. Knowledge has erased that innocence.

Now, just over 60 years later, I live in a country where if you're Jewish someone might put a Star of David on your business premises. What's next after a business? Your home, your clothing, a tattoo? Hell no, you say. Well, you're just talking about where the identification mark goes.

You should be opposed to the singling out of anyone because of their race in the first place. It's no less offensive because it's just one or two people being picked on or a few hundred rather than thousands. It hasn't happened much you say? If that's your attitude you need to think again.

Pro-Palestine protesters are defying renewed demands to remove university encampments, with 150 classes cancelled at one campus and claims another institution threatened students with expulsion. Camps have been set up at five universities in Victoria and one in every other state and the ACT. Video via AAP.

The Israel Gaza tensions have sadly revealed a decline in Australia's capacity for civilized dialogue. Differences of opinion and the debate around them are how we inform ourselves and move forward. You don't see much of that in this debate.

Do you think it is OK for lectures to be cancelled because a Jewish person is the speaker? Is it OK for Jewish students to feel threatened or at risk on a university campus?

It's just woke rubbish to rattle on about free speech having primacy and pointing out that you have support services for people who feel unsafe because of the protests. Yes people should be able to demonstrate and put forward their view. But free speech has always had limits. Safety of others is one.

Nasty ugly stuff always starts slowly. Infiltrates. Tries to normalise. And then it comes in a flood. It's like a cancer. Get it early or else. You should be against the anti-Jewish lunacy in the first place.

Taking sides and yelling across the square used to be regarded as childish. Something kids did in primary school. Now it happens at universities. Otherwise normal people take a position and set about marshalling material to defend it. And to attack any contrary views.

We seem more intent on displaying what we mistake as our understanding and intellect than we do in exercising whatever portions of that we are blessed with.

Political life for many citizens and certainly for those who see themselves as well informed is now a series of skirmishes and fights rather than the delight of dialogue. There's more interest in expounding one's own view than in hearing, let alone understanding, what others may think. It's about your identity rather than the issues.

The volume isn't in one sense important. You don't have to yell to be boorish and overbearing. In fact many seek to demand attention by speaking softly and slowly. They try to make you feel rude for not giving way to the softer voice. The slowness is a childish way of trying to flag thoughtfulness.

Their opinion deserves no better hearing than anyone else's. Good citizens recognise the important role of exchanging views within our whole community. The managerial class only want to hear from themselves.

Student demonstrators in Melbourne chant slogans to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Picture Getty Images
Student demonstrators in Melbourne chant slogans to express solidarity with the Palestinian cause. Picture Getty Images

Everyone else gets on with their life watching with some amusement and boredom the puffery of the woke managerialists. However reality is hitting home. The damage caused to our otherwise easy going, freedom loving culture is more and more apparent. People are fed up. I predict a backlash.

The self-indulgent "free speech" advocates are anything but. They want their right to chant "from the river to the sea" without having to take into account how that impacts on others. My guess is most wouldn't know which river they're chanting about.

They want to ban Jewish speakers, intimidate Jewish students because it's their right to say what they want. There's no place for others to have their say.

They have no time for the reality of living in a free society. That's where we together agree to behave in a way that gives each other those freedoms. A social contract we make with each other so we can all enjoy freedom and live together.

Yes, it does mean some limits on free speech. Counterintuitive as it may be those limits actually maximise the opportunity for all of us to express our views. Reciprocity is not on the agenda of protesters. So taken are woke managerialists with the simplistic "free speech" notion that they let the demonstrations at universities get out of hand.

Their first obligation is to the safety and wellbeing of all on campus. Either they forgot that or were too stupid to see where it was all going. Now it's a mess.

Criticism of Netanyahu and the Israeli government has lazily morphed into anti-Jewish sentiment against Israel and its people or Jewish people worldwide. Their hatred is reserved for Jewish actions.

Does anyone, especially those with any clout, ask themselves how it comes about that these protests are happening? Do they imagine they are just spontaneous outbursts of shared thought among like-minded people who just happen to be in the same place at the same time? How stupid do universities have to be to not consider outsiders both misusing their students and inflaming the protests in any event?

Have they asked themselves why there weren't similar protests supporting the Uighur, Somalians, Syrians, Yemeni ... and on the list goes.

Worse, the anti-Israeli protesters display a remarkable incapacity to offer criticism of Hamas or the Palestinians. Some even say that Israel's conduct prior to October 7 last year justifies the horrific Hamas attack. Terrorism, killing, raping, degrading women and children is apparently, for some people, justifiable.

A behind-the-scenes look at the Gaza solidarity camp at the University of Sydney as universities across Australia practice sit-ins. Video via AAP.

They call such vile acts resistance. Against military personnel or infrastructure you might stand a chance. But not with the depravity of the October 7 attack. Against kids at a music festival and civilians, you're not freedom fighters you're cowardly, sick, perverted and depraved. A disgrace to humanity. Wild animals do not behave like that. No wonder none of their neighbours want them.

I hope our decision to take some people from Gaza with limited if any security checks doesn't turn out to be the mistake I think it was. Gaza is riddled with Hamas terrorists. Giving people from there visas and saying you did all the checks for the visa you chose is just a misleading play on form over substance.

When Hamas recognises that Israel should be there to stay, stops its ongoing war against Israel, stops its cowardly and cruel act of hiding soldiers and weapons behind civilians under hospitals and schools, stops using Palestinians as shields for their aggression, stops siphoning off aid to their war effort and returns what hostages are left there might be a chance. Until then it's a pipe dream.

  • Amanda Vanstone is a former senator for South Australia, and a former Howard government minister. She writes fortnightly for ACM.
Amanda Vanstone

Amanda Vanstone is a former senator for South Australia, a former Howard government minister, and a former ambassador to Italy. She writes fortnightly for ACM.