There is nothing to suggest that new 'Freedom Commissioner' Tim Wilson thinks freedome of speech is anything more than a rich person's right.

Academic John Passant calls on newly appointed ‘Freedom Commissioner’ Tim Wilson to represent all sides of the political divide.

In an article in The Australian, about free speech and universities, Sydney University undergraduate Patrick Massarani writes:

‘If the Abbott government is so devoted to freedom, as the appointment of Tim Wilson seems to indicate, they should direct him to the question of academic and intellectual freedoms.’

Let me put, in a roundabout way, the question of defending academic freedom more directly to Tim Wilson, the former IPA spin doctor, through my own personal experience.

Free speech can only be judged in the context of the society in which it exists. Media moguls have free speech courtesy of their accumulation of money and hence power.

Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian has not made a profit in the entire 49 years of its existence. But that is not why Murdoch turns out this ‒ at the moment ‒ interminable Liberal Party propaganda pamphlet and Labor Party shit sheet.

He does it, of course, because it buys him immense power and influence.

In other words, the means of free speech under capitalism ‒ and hence free speech ‒  are divided, like all things under the system, between capital and labour; between the haves ‒ the very small minority, the one per cent if you like ‒ and the have nots — the rest of us.

There will thus be a problem for Wilson in championing free speech. Most actions which restrict political free speech are exercised against the Left and those campaigning against big money.   

The rights of East-West Tunnel demonstrators to express their opposition to the destruction of their homes and neighbourhoods for a toll road are denied when the police, as they have on numerous occasions, viciously attack the demonstrators. Wilson, it goes without saying, won’t be championing them.

Nor will Wilson champion the refugees silenced in our concentration camps here and on Nauru and Manus Island. So Tim, how about a trip to Nauru as a Human Rights Commissioner to see the disgraceful and inhumane conditions asylum seekers are held in, with a denunciation of the illiberal Abbott Government over refugees for good measure?

How about it Tim?

No? I didn’t think so.

Wilson also won’t be campaigning for free speech unhindered by threats of imprisonment for Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning or Julian Assange. He will be campaigning for free speech for capital and its apologists.

When he was appointed Wilson tweeted:

Here’s a chance for Wilson to defend my free speech and that of countless other academics at Universities across Australia from the ravages of right wing neoliberalism gone mad.

I worked at the University of Canberra on contract in 2010 and 2011 in the then Faculty of Law. In my 34 years of employment, this Faculty was the most vicious and bullying workplace I have ever worked in.

The dominant non-commercial law group ‒ the 'Justice' group ‒ made life difficult for commercial lawyers in a number of petty and not so petty ways on an almost daily basis.

The final straw for me was in 2011, when a group of non-commercial law colleagues removed the work of the commercial lawyers from the Faculty display cabinet.

This action, coming on top of a range of other provocations, saw me describe the Justice group as a “faction”. A gag order was issued against me almost immediately. I was prohibited from calling this cabal a faction.

In my view this was a restriction on my right to freedom of speech and contrary to both the University’s enterprise agreement and the ACT Human Rights Act.

I called on the University to investigate these possible human rights breaches. Three-and-a-half months later, the relevant area responded to my requests for information on progress of the complaint by saying they thought that I had withdrawn my complaint.

I had not done so.

My contract was coming to an end and I was not interviewed for a future job there.

Here are some questions for Tim Wilson…

In defending free speech, are you just going to champion the rightwing in its campaigns of racial and other vilification? Or will you also campaign for revolutionary socialists like me, in their efforts to exercise their human right of free speech?

If so, will you investigate the seeming breach of my right to academic freedom and free speech outlined above? 

I welcome giving you the chance, Tim Wilson, to defend my free speech and to help embolden academics across Australia to speak out.

(John Passant is a former tax lecturer and Assistant Commissioner of Taxation in charge of international tax reform in the ATO. Since leaving the University of Canberra in December 2011 he has not been interviewed once for any of the more than 20 academic tax law jobs he has applied for. No doubt being a revolutionary socialist has had nothing to do with his failure to be interviewed. You can read more by John at En Passant.)

Independent Australia is interested in hearing stories from other academics about bullying and denial of free speech at universities.

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