The government has ‘no intention of stifling freedom of speech in this area’, but instead aims to ‘keep Australians safe’.

Media and Communications Minister Michelle Rowland harks back to fond memories of Australia’s militantly authoritarian response to Covid-19 with the above statement. Perhaps this is the elusive ‘new normal’ we were warned about? Australians have supposedly faced – and continue to face – all manner of threats to our ‘safety’, but apparently none more so than the proliferation of information and opinions that are non government-approved.

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In George Orwell’s 1984, the ‘Ministry of Truth’ was a misnomer: the ministry actually rewrote history to conform to its ever-changing narrative. But ‘Ministry of Truth’ was also an accurate descriptor, as it became the single source of ‘truth’ as society came to know it. One look at the broad powers that Labor is attempting to hand Australia’s media watchdog – the ACMA reveals that in 2023, our own federal government seeks to be the single source of truth – and the media can either print it or pay up. 

It’s hard to come to any other conclusion. A government agency will be given powers to decide what published information is ‘misinformation’ or ‘disinformation’, and what could cause ‘harm’, and can then compel social media and other online companies to enforce measures prohibiting or punishing such ‘harm’ or ‘misinformation’. But here’s the kicker – guess who happens to be exempt from such restrictions? That’s right, ‘professional’ news outlets, ‘government accredited’ educational bodies and, of course, the government themselves.

Free thinkers and those who challenged official narratives or widely-held beliefs have a long history of being vindicated by the passage of time, many of whom only received acclaim or recognition after death. Galileo, Darwin, Martin Luther and Socrates are just a few names among many whose views are now widely accepted, yet were persecuted or silenced during their lifetimes. Even today, we in the western world ironically celebrate brave defectors from authoritarian regimes such as China and North Korea while ramping up rhetoric that supports government restrictions on free speech in our own online spaces.

The Coincidence - a novel by Gabriel Moens

This evidences the lack of self-awareness our politicians and society at large have sadly receded into, believing our ‘safety’ is at risk when the orthodoxy is challenged or we are called on to apply our own discernment when consuming information. One might also reflect on the sad state of truthfulness in both the political class and the legacy media, who will remain unaccountable for the mistruths and outright lies they propagate.   

This looming ‘anti-misinformation’ overreach is part of a slide towards a larger, more intrusive role for government in our lives – a presence that Australians seem to be embracing. Whether it be young renters calling for rental controls, struggling mortgage holders calling for a government overhaul of Australia’s central bank or covid busybodies reporting their lockdown-defying neighbours to authorities – everyone seems to have a new thirst for greater governmental power. 

But as we saw in Orwell’s classic, if a government claims all power there is to be had, we will have no choice but to embrace their seemingly benevolent control. To quote Orwell’s other masterpiece Animal Farm: ‘All animals are equal, but some … are more equal than others.’ We should never accept the notion that one rule applies to us and another to them. We heard it straight from the horse’s mouth when former New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern claimed in 2022 that her Labour government would ‘continue to be your single source of truth’. That is ‘newspeak’ if I ever heard it. 

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Max Payne is the Australian Programs Associate with Students For Liberty, supporting Australian students in their pursuit of liberty and free markets. He has also run twice as a candidate with the Libertarian Party. Max is a firm advocate of free markets, individual liberties, and is now committed to the Christian faith - despite growing up in an atheist and left-leaning family. His other articles can be found on substack as well as the Learn Liberty blog.

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