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Free Speech Theory

Understanding the Controversies

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Edited By Helen J. Knowles and Brandon T. Metroka

The rallying cry of "Free speech!" has long served as a touchstone for liberals and conservatives, alike, engaged in political polarization conflict and discourse. The democratization of media and the feverish pitch of political polarization, however, have contributed to the weaponization of free expression. From Colin Kaepernick to "fake news," boycotts of partisan television programming to removals of Confederate monuments, internet neutrality to the silencing of college professors and all points between, citizens and pundits all too frequently wield the slogan of "Free speech!" as the sword and shield of political discourse. Oftentimes, ironically they do so with little regard for the views of their opponents. As a result, society risks trading a substantive value for an empty slogan or, far worse, blind authority.To rediscover the underlying assumptions and social values served by free expression, and to move current controversies beyond rhetorical flourishes, Helen J. Knowles and Brandon T. Metroka assemble an impressive group of legal and political scholars to address one overarching question: "Why should we value free speech?" Through analyses of several recent controversies invoking concerns for free expression, the contributors to this volume make complex political theory accessible, informative, and entertaining. Beginning with internet neutrality and ending with an overview of developing free expression controversies in comparable western democracies, experts reestablish the link between free expression and the underlying values it may serve. In doing so, this volume unearths values previously unexamined in our modern—but increasingly impoverished and bitter—political discourse.

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7. Free Speech Debates in Australia: Contemporary Controversies (Katharine Gelber)

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7. Free Speech Debates in Australia: Contemporary Controversies

Katharine Gelber

Around the world freedom of speech is usually protected through explicit constitutional or statutory law. Australia is unusual for a Western liberal democracy, in that it does not possess any explicit federal constitutional or statutory protection for freedom of speech. Nevertheless, this does not mean the freedom is entirely unprotected; rather, that the mechanisms by which freedom of speech is protected are complex, multilayered, and weak.1 The weak protection of freedom of speech in Australian constitutional and statutory law is in part reflective of the lack of a dominant theoretical approach to its defense throughout history. Free speech debates have taken place in the context of a broader political culture that historically has prioritized a utilitarian approach to governing over explicit rights protection.

Yet in contemporary political debate, freedom of speech is invoked rhetorically more frequently than has been the case before. Moreover, this invocation promotes a libertarian view of freedom of speech, which differs significantly from the approach to free speech that preceded these debates. This chapter investigates the ways in which current debates over free speech controversies reflect attempts to inject a libertarian view of free speech into Australian political culture. It also demonstrates the relative failure of this approach to build broad support for wider protections for a range of speech, including speech that harms.

In order to do this, first this chapter explains the unique set...

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