This piece originally appeared on the cover of the IPA Review in April 2017.
Before it finally announced its intention to amend section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in March this year, the Turnbull government professed a very strong view on where section 18C ranked in its list of political priorities.
Eliminating this threat to freedom of speech—one of the most fundamental democratic liberties—by scrapping 18C ‘wouldn’t create one job’, according to Treasurer Scott Morrison. It ‘won’t build a road’, declared Malcolm Turnbull.
There are many things the government does that won’t create jobs or build roads, but its throw-away dismissal of freedom of speech shows that it understands very little about the forces behind Brexit and the victory of Donald Trump. For the last few decades, an entrenched political class has chipped away at the key institutions of liberal democracy: the rule of law, free speech and tolerance, impartial justice, and a limited state. At long last, conservatives have lost patience.
In 1992, Bill Clinton’s election strategist James Carville coined the campaign slogan: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ Economics matters, of course. Understanding the moribund economic growth since the Global Financial Crisis is a big part of understanding the politics of 2017. Morrison and Turnbull are therefore right to be concerned about jobs and roads, but democracy is more than a mechanism to agree on the best company tax rate. More than anything, when we vote, we vote our values. Continue reading