Three lullabies in an ancient tongue… Wotton v Qld and @TheIPA MIA #auspol #auslaw

The decision in Eatock v Bolt was handed down on 28 September 2011.

On 29 September 2011, the Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) had articles in The Conversation and in The Drum, both claiming non-market limitations on freedom of speech were unjust.  The IPA went in to bat further: a campaign to run an ad in the national broadsheet supporting Andrew Bolt.

The decision in Wotton v Qld was handed down on 29 February 2012.

To date, I have been unable to find even a whisper of a whimper from the IPA about the decision.  On 5th of March, I chided James Patterson (author of The Drum article linked above) on Twitter about the silence.  He responded:

give us a minute! Agree wotton case very concerning and am shortly writing a piece on it [Source]

In Eatock v Bolt, the parties were ‘light-skinned’ (for want of a better term) Aborigines and a shockingly wealthy News Ltd. columnist.  In a nutshell, the case was about sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act: were Bolt’s comments offensive on grounds of race/ethnicity and, if so, were the comments in the public interest.  I wrote an article praising the decision on New Matilda.

Wotton v Qld concerns an Indigenous man who, following a death in police custody of another Indigenous man, participated in a riot.  For his participation, he was sentenced to six years imprisonment with two years non-parole.  In 2010, he was released on parole (but still under sentence) with various conditions, including:

(t) not attend public meetings on Palm Island without the prior approval of the corrective services officer;
(u) be prohibited from speaking to and having any interaction whatsoever with the media;
(v) receive no direct or indirect payment or benefit to him, or through any members of his family, through any agent, through any spokesperson or through any person or entity negotiating or dealing on his behalf with the media.

Broadly, the case was whether this was a valid restriction of Mr Wotton’s freedom of expression.  The IPA should have been all over it.

‘In a free and liberal society,’ they would have asserted, ‘How can we deny people the right to speak out about their experiences with the legal system?’

‘It is undemocratic,’ they would have opined, ‘For a man of such splendid character as Mr Wotton to have his basic rights curtailed under the pretence of keeping the peace.’

‘It is yet another example of the Nanny State,’ they would have blurted, ‘That parole conditions are not set by the invisible hand of the unregulated market.’

But, no.  As Mr Wotton is neither a News Ltd. columnist nor an anthropogenic climate change denier nor a Muslim-hating racist, Mr Wotton does not deserve having his rights defended by the IPA, whose intellectual credentials I need not outline here.

You see, the IPA only defends those who can defend themselves: white guys with newspaper columns; people who inherited their fortunes; billionaires.

As for me, I agree entirely with the decision, but wonder if this is really the approach the people of Queensland want to take with sentencing and parole.  Mr Wotton is still under sentence.  He is still, as it were, being punished for his involvement in the riot several years ago.  Restrictions upon freedoms is the most common way we punish.  ‘Parole’ doesn’t mean ‘You’re free’.  ‘Parole’ means ‘You take the prison with you’.

On the other hand, the broader issues at play — Indigenous disadvantage, deaths in custody, &c. — suggest that restricting the ability of Mr Wotton to participate in media discussions and debates is unwise.  This isn’t really a legal issue; it’s a question of how Queenslanders want to engage in the complex interactions of Indigenous Queenslanders and the legal system.  By most accounts, there’s something toxic going on there and silencing the people with the first-hand accounts isn’t a great way to reach catharsis.

The IPA should be ashamed of themselves.  Their position on Bolt leaves them very few consistent positions with Wotton: they should have been at the forefront of championing his case.  For everybody else, there are deeper questions about crime, punishment, and how to address inequalities in the legal system.

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One thought on “Three lullabies in an ancient tongue… Wotton v Qld and @TheIPA MIA #auspol #auslaw

  1. http://theconversation.edu.au/silencing-lex-wotton-palm-island-riot-decision-a-blow-for-freedom-of-speech-5666

    linked from

    http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Australian-Libertarian-Society/124011253310

    (… I think libertarianism is useful in some ways, but the problem is that small-government ideology has been heavily co-opted by neo-conservative politics who simply use it as a way to excuse forcing negative externalities onto the poor whilst lining the pockets of the ultra-rich and increasing corporate and middle-upper class welfare. )

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