By JR on Thursday, June 02, 2011
Larissa Behrendt claims to be an Aborigine and pretends to wisdom about Aboriginal affairs -- but she is as pink-skinned as I am and has nothing new to offer on Aboriginal policy. She is nothing like a real Aborigine, even if she has some remote Aboriginal ancestry. She is just a conventional Leftist. She is comfortably ensconced with others of her ilk at the University of Technology, Sydney, far away from the day-to-day problems of real Aborigines. Her many awards and honours suggest that her claims of Aboriginality have served her well, however. It's so comforting to give awards to "Aborigines" who are just like us. It helps to hide the real and sad differences that need to be dealt with constructively -- JR
This is about a big idea: the human right to free speech. Yet in the academic world devoted to human rights where Larissa Behrendt earns her living, free speech is often scorned. As the poster girl for urban academics, the law professor has done a first-class job of exposing the Left's lack of commitment to free speech.
Behrendt is entitled to her views. But as a high-profile indigenous academic with a long list of public appointments - professor of law and director of research at the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning at the University of Technology, Sydney, former chair of one of the Australian Research Council's panels that hands out taxpayer-funded research grants and so on - Behrendt is accountable for what she says and does.
If she wants to follow an out-dated agenda of postcolonial guilt, treaties and indigenous sovereignty, she is free to do so. Some will agree with her. Many others will disagree with an agenda best described by anthropologist Peter Sutton as pie-in-the-sky. They will argue that real progress depends on eradicating violence against indigenous women and children.
Yet when Behrendt tweeted that watching bestiality on television was less offensive than watching Bess Price, a strong supporter of the Northern Territory intervention, on ABC1's Q & A, Behrendt clearly rejected the merits of debate. She undermined her own credibility as a defender of human rights when she transformed an important debate about indigenous violence into something petty and personal.
Behrendt's email apology does not hide her deeper contempt for free speech when she defaulted to the Left's standard tactic of trying to muzzle those with different views. Those who stray from the orthodoxy are not just wrong, they are evil - worse than watching bestiality. Ergo, those with evil views should not be seen or heard.
And then there's the hypocrisy. Behrendt and her fellow travellers are using discrimination laws to try to shut down Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt for expressing strongly held views. Behrendt said much worse things about Price.
Just imagine the fatal career consequences had a white academic tweeted in the way Behrendt did. Defending Behrendt and her appointment to the government's review of Aboriginal higher education, chairman of the Indigenous Higher Education Advisory Council Steve Larkin said the tweet fiasco had nothing to do with higher education.
This is not just about a throwaway tweet. As The Australian reported on April 19 and 20, Behrendt tried to stop the National Indigenous Times from publishing the views of human rights lawyer Hannah McGlade, whose focus is protecting indigenous women and children from violence. While Behrendt said she had had no conversations with Stephen Hagan, editor of the Times, she wrote an email to the newspaper's general manager Beverley Wyner and her husband, John, which noted her distress at discovering McGlade was a likely new contributor.
In the email, Behrendt writes: ". . . I felt that this meant that our paper was giving all her views legitimacy, including her personal attacks on me." What happened to debate, Dr Behrendt?
In fact, Behrendt's disdain for free speech has everything to do with higher education. As naive as it sounds, the heartbeat of free speech should be at its healthiest within our universities. Instead, free speech risks flatlining when a professor of law ridicules and shuts down opponents. Warren Mundine told The Australian: "If you don't have free debate in academia, then where the bloody hell are we going?"
Consider this too. Since 2002, Behrendt has been a director of the Sydney Writers Festival, a cosy, taxpayer-subsidised couch where like-minded people sit and nod in agreement. At no stage has historian Keith Windschuttle been invited to talk about his contributions to history. He's been invited to the Adelaide Writers Festival, the Melbourne Writers Festival. Even Byron Bay luvvies have hosted him. But not the writers' clique in his home town.
There is a devastating human cost here. It is no coincidence that the human right to free speech is the critical driver of human progress. Progress doesn't come from sticking with the herd. In every sphere, the best ideas often challenged the mainstream. Behind every advance, there is a dissident voice, a radical idea, a genuinely curious, bravely independent mind. Yet so many on the Left, who mistakenly wrap themselves up as progressives, have little time for such voices of dissent.
As Mundine says: "This is about serious debate. Nothing could be more serious than the issues raised by Bess Price in regard to violence against women and children within our society. This really gets down to the very fabric of what our society stands for."