The Geraldton Mayor and Free Speech


In case you missed today's "here's what we should be outraged about" article from the taxpayer funded ABC, here's a link. 

In a nutshell, Laura Meachim from the ABC has done a piece about a "formal complaint" following Van Styn's comments that someone didn't like on social media. 

The comment in question was in relation to the community outrage the ABC says was occurring over the release of the Boulder man who killed a 14 year old boy. 

Regarding the outraged, Shane Van Styn pointed out that cricket bat killer we all remember well also received about the same amount of jail time, and Van Styn questioned why there wasn't the same level of community outrage then?

Consider these two scenarios:

Scenario 1

Your colleague at work comes up to you and looks you dead in the eye. He's about to insult you. 

His mouth opens. 

"You're an idiot!"

You're instantly offended. How dare this person insult you like that. 

Scenario 2

Your colleague at work comes up to you and looks you dead in the eye. He's about to insult you. 

His mouth opens. 

"You're a cloud!"

You instantly laugh. You know you're not a cloud, and your colleague is clearly misinformed. 

Why do we choose to be offended by scenario 1, but we would simply brush off scenario 2?

Because a little voice inside us thinks that maybe scenario 1 is correct, and then another voice says no it's not, then we have internal conflict, then we direct that turmoil outwards in the form of being offended and retaliation. 

In reality, the conflict lies within us. 

Because when someone calls us a cloud, we don't think it's true in the slightest, and there's no inner dialogue demanding we defend our honour.

If Van Styn had said something that was obviously untrue and absurd, we'd all laugh at him and pay him no mind. 

But instead people have chosen to be offended by what he wrote. News articles are being written. 

And, counter to what the complainer actually wanted, Van Styn's comments are now getting even MORE publicity and attention. 

Rather than argue the merits of Van Styn's arguments, point out why they disagree with him, or make a case for why the cricket bat murderer deserved a lesser sentence than the 56 year old Boulder man, the complainer would prefer Mr Van Styn not be allowed to express an opinion at all. 

From what I can tell, this "formal complaint" is just an email with the words "without prejudice" at the top. 

As a general rule of thumb, one writes "without prejudice" at the top of a letter when they DON'T want what they have written to be held against them in court.

Interestingly, the Maddington based author of the email is Lindsay Councillor, an uncle of the cricket bat killer.

But what Van Styn actually wrote is beside the point.

What's concerning here is that someone calling for silencing of someone's free speech rights has been given the time of day by the ABC and wasn't abruptly dismissed by Labor politician and Minister for Local Government, David Templeman. 

In Australia we are very capable of having civilised debate of competing ideas without appeal to authority to shut the other side down because they wrote or said something we didn't like. 

It reminds me of my 2 year old coming in to my office complaining that his brother called him a name. 

Without freedom of speech, we wouldn't have been able to make so much progress on women's rights, indigenous rights, gay rights, and more. The entirety of western democracy is built on the reliable fact that we can argue about ideas and opinions freely. 

That said, I wholeheartedly support Lindsay Councillor's freedom of speech and his right to send complaint emails to public servants. 

But we need to call out the obvious efforts by many among us who are attempting to silence anyone they don't agree with. 

Your decision to choose to be offended is on you. You don't have any right to silence people you disagree with or who you decide are offensive. 

The argument for Van Styn not being allowed to have an opinion is that it comes across like he's speaking in his role as Mayor. 

But what politician among us has agreed to no longer voice an opinion?

If Mr Van Styn was using the CGG ratepayer funded media department to spread propaganda and his own personal opinion, then I think he would have something to answer for. 

But calling for local government representatives to not ask questions about double standards in the daily-outrage-virtue-signalling-world-of-social-media is not the direction we want our society to head.  

I don't agree with everything Shane Van Styn says, but I'll defend his right to say it.

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Jason Smith

Jason Smith is the founder of Just Everything. He is also a local volunteer, law student, and home-schools his three kids.