I can no longer have an opinion.
Wait. I can have an opinion, but I might get a pie in my face or glitter up my nose. Just ask Alan Joyce and Andrew Bolt what that feels like.
It’s like overnight the collective conscience of the Australian public threw free speech out the window. The government’s sometimes just as guilty of stopping genuine debate: Sorry folks. That’s enough opinions and ideological debate for today. Tomorrow we’re going to call each other names and get on with funding Gonski.
What happened? Why can we no longer have a voice? Why can we no longer put forward articulate responses to difficult problems?
Now, I’m not choosing right or left here. In fact, I’ve spent the last 10 years in Christian ministry trying to hold the sensible middle ground from everything political to religious. I have heard rigorous debates about the environment, human sexuality, state and federal economics, how we treat refugees, and how many times we repeat the bridge of our Christian worship songs.
The day freedom of speech died
The day freedom of speech died in Australia was not the day when we disrespected other people or their opinions.
The shift in controversial debate happens when we move from, ‘I don’t like your opinion and here’s why…’ to ‘I don’t like you, and here’s why…’
There’s a difference.
We’ve always had hotly debated topics in the history of Australia. In previous decades citizens debated on whether our indigenous brothers and sisters could vote, whether we should become a republic, whether our borders were strong enough or too strong, and the list goes on.
The question is not whether we should debate divisive topics, but rather how we conduct ourselves when we do.
French philosopher Voltaire (1694 - 1778) once said, ‘I don’t agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’
That’s freedom of speech in quote form. It means you have opinions and I have opinions. I don’t necessarily agree with your opinions, but I don’t call you an idiot because of them.
Are we impatient?
Maybe we’re just impatient. Life moves so quickly in Western Civilisation today that we no longer have the time or unction to wait for others to shift their philosophical foundations to ours. Cue the impact of social media and advancements in technology and you have a culture frenetic about accomplishment and success.
Do we even have time anymore to listen and to genuinely discuss?
Are we sick and tired of indecisiveness?
My mind flickers to the time I sat in a minister’s fraternity when it took 15 ministers/pastors 45 minutes to decide the artistic design of a wreath that was going to be laid at a special event. That painful afternoon was only exasperated by the dry homebrand biscuits and mug full of cheap instant coffee.
Why were these moments so frustrating?
It was undoubtedly because it took so long to make an easy decision.
When someone holds to a particular philosophical position, that would only take one act of parliament or one change in the constitution, or one name change of a stadium, you understand that a myriad of people are angry and sick and tired of indecisiveness.
It’s time for a different kind of debate
The big issues that get Australia talking are not going away any time soon. So then the challenge is not to silence people, hurl insults at them or send them hurtful private Facebook messages.
We need to embrace a new set of rules for debate in this country.
Let’s start with the words of Jesus, ‘Do unto others as you would have done unto you.’ Then listen. God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we must listen twice as much as we talk, then show some respect.
I may not agree with every opinion you have, but you can guarantee I’m not going to throw a pie in your face.
Pete Brookshaw is the Senior Minister of The Salvation Army Craigieburn. He has a Bachelor of both Business and Theology and is passionate about the church being dynamic and effective in the world and creating communities of faith that are outward-focused, innovative, passionate about the lost and committed to societal change. He has been blogging since 2006 at www.petebrookshaw.com about leadership and faith.
Peter Brookshaw’s previous articles may be viewed at