Chapter 11 from: J.J. Ray (Ed.) "Conservatism as Heresy". Sydney: A.N.Z. Book Co., 1974

Reprinted from Nation Review, 6 April 1973, p. 753 and written under the pseudonym 'Libertas'.


John Ray

MR WHITLAM and his A.L.P. government have promised that they will restrict our freedom of information 'by legislation, if necessary'. I refer, of course, to one of his first acts on coming to office -- his attempt to have the Rhodesia Information Centre closed down. It is still open at the time of writing.

Legislation then would indeed appear to be necessary. I will predict, however, that it will not quickly be forthcoming. Sir Robert Menzies is on record in Hansard as referring to the Rhodesian prime minister as: 'My friend, Mr Smith' -- so you can imagine how likely the Liberals are to let any such legislation through the Senate.

If it was put up and the Senate did reject it, however, the defeat might be signal enough to require a double dissolution. Can you imagine Mr Whitlam going to the polls on an issue of restricting one of our most treasured freedoms, the freedom to speak? The Senate debate alone would be damaging enough to Labor without fighting an election on the issue, indeed it is some testimony to how disorganised the Liberals were after the last election that they did not take up the issue on these grounds when Whitlam raised it.

'But', you may say, 'what has the Rhodesia Information Centre got to do with free speech? Surely it is just a propaganda outlet?' The answer to that, of course, is that when you agree with it, it is information; when you disagree with it, it is propaganda. As they used to say: 'What's propaganda and what's proper goose?'

'But by propaganda is meant distorted information, and there is no reason to tolerate that!' someone might say. If that is so, why do we tolerate advertising?

Anyhow, who thinks that our press itself is free of bias and distortion? Bias will always be with us. The only safeguard is that everybody be allowed to present his own viewpoint. In comparing the same topic treated by people with opposing biases, we might have at least the chance of finding a golden mean that is somewhere near the truth.

It is a sad comparison that while the former government was in power we did not recognise Communist China. We even fought them (in Korea). And yet one could always go down to the appropriate Communist bookshop and cart away half a ton of pro-Chinese literature if that was one's inclination. Mr Whitlam doesn't want to allow the same freedom to supporters of a regime he does not recognise or approve of.

This just bears out the suggestion implicit in my own nom de plume -- that in our society it is the conservatives who are the guardians of liberty and the rights of the individual, not the socialists. This is in fact traditional. It was the conservatives who believed in free enterprise and thought the free world was worth fighting for.

Not of course that Labor leaders don't acknowledge their commitment to free speech in the abstract. It is when it comes down to actually allowing people to hear something that Labor does not like them to hear that we see how different words are from deeds. Mr Whitlam went to the polls with the promise of 'more open government' and specifically justified this policy with the assertion that we all have a 'right to know'. This policy, however, was formulated in the belief that it would help embarrass the former Liberal government. That it might embarrass Labor was not seriously foreseen.

Whitlam's policy then seems to boil down to 'freedom of speech for those who agree with me'. Not so different from Joe Stalin after all.

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