The High Price of Free Speech

Free speech is the cornerstone of our democracy. We allow our politicians the protection of the Parliament so they can speak without fear or favour in the interests of their constituents and country.

Yet under new rules introduced by the Rudd Government, speaking in the Parliament is fine but sharing that message with the broader community will be subject to the approval of the public service.

In an attempt to effectively censor MPs’ communications, any material sent from electorate offices needs to be cleared by a panel of bureaucrats.

Words that fall foul of Big Brother include “reckless”, “dreadful”, “mismanagement” and “disgraceful”, all of which could apply to any number of government programs.

Worse still, the official record of the Parliament, Hansard, also needs to be approved before it can be sent to members of the public. This makes a mockery of representative democracy, open and accountable government and the people’s parliament.

This means that if any South Australian contacts me requesting a copy of the transcript of what has happened in the Parliament, I am unable to post it to them without first having it vetted by the chief censor.

The rationale for such oppressive behaviour is to stop any misuse of the entitlements that are available to MPs. This is a worthy and desirable aim, but requiring permission before postage is punitive and pathetic.

Unfortunately, it is another example of a Government that is intent on controlling the ‘what’ and ‘who’ and ‘when’ of public discussion. This objective manifests itself in the obsession the Rudd Government has with the 24 hour media spin cycle.

This has now extended to effectively limiting the communication of free speech by our elected representatives.

To my mind, this is an unwelcome development from a Government devoid of principle, save its desire to not subject itself to public criticism and accountability.

The Rudd Government approach has more in common with the propaganda ministries of repressive eastern bloc governments than with a modern western democracy.

None of us should be prepared to accept a system where MPs are allowed to congratulate the government of the day, but are banned from criticising them.

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