Senator BOSWELL (Queensland) (12:57): Let me say, firstly, that I am glad Senator Brandis is in the chamber at the moment, because what I am about to speak to will affect him.
I wish to raise a matter pertaining to the restrictions that we have in Australia on free speech. This issue has recently attracted attention in the case of the well known columnist Andrew Bolt. I also wish to draw the attention of the Senate to another case, that of Dr David van Gend, who makes regular public contributions on social conservative issues. Dr van Gend is the subject of a complaint to the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland for comments he made in a public forum on the issue of same-sex parents. The Courier-Mail sponsored the forum, aimed at providing a balance of opinion both for and against this issue, which is important to many Australians. It was a democratic exchange of ideas and opinions.
On 29 June 2011 the Courier-Mail invited Dr Karen Brooks and Dr David van Gend to submit opinion pieces—the case for and against—on gay marriage. Dr van Gend wrote for the case against. This is part of what he wrote:
IF you hold to the old-fashioned idea a baby deserves both a mother and a father, the president of the Queensland branch of the Labor Party, Andrew Dettmer, calls your views "abominable".
The state Labor conference recently voted to destroy the timeless meaning of marriage and redefine it to include a pair of men or a lesbian couple, and Dettmer slurred opponents as being no better than racists … He further said:
Discrimination against people on the basis of their gender or their sexual orientation is just as abominable and just as unsupportable as discrimination on the basis of race.
Dr van Gend replied:
Yes, it is discrimination to prohibit the "marriage" of two men, but it is just and necessary discrimination, because the only alternative is the far worse act of discrimination against children brought artificially into the world by such men, compelled to live their whole lives without a mother. Now that approaches the abominable.
Dr van Gend's comments were quoting the Queensland President of the Labor Party when he used the words 'approaching the abominable'. I do not think they can be in any way construed as vilification on the grounds of race, religion, sexuality or gender identity. These comments invoked an antidiscrimination complaint under section 12A of the Queensland Anti-Discrimination Act by a member of the Gay Dads lobby group. The complaint was issued on 30 June. The fact that the Labor Party president used the word 'abominable' to describe people that have a different view from him and that Dr van Gend used similar words in saying 'approaching the abominable' to reinforce his arguments should not invoke the Racial Discrimination Act.
The next thing you know, Dr van Gend has to attend a compulsory mediation, which is to take place tomorrow. Nothing has been proved against him. A complaint was made and, regardless of substance or being right or wrong, the person complained about must turn up and participate in mediation with the complainant. Naturally the doctor feels aggrieved, especially as it takes him away from a busy medical practice where he does much good work.
I did not think that we lived in an Australia where a disagreement of opinion can result in hauling someone before an anti-discrimination board. This is a country where we agree to disagree. This is a country where a two-sided debate can exist. This is a country where people are not intimidated from sharing their point of view. Or is it? First Andrew Bolt, now David van Gend.
I know many people do not agree with their views and I know many who do. It seems that tolerance for the views of others goes out the window if you are from the Left and you do not like to hear an opposing argument. These are the same people who preach tolerance on everything, yet in fact they are the least tolerant when it comes to open debate. Dr van Gend expressed his views that, essentially, a child deserves a mother and that compelling a child to live his life without a mother approaches the abominable. Is that really a sentiment, which was expressed by a caring, mature, educated, medical doctor that can trigger a compulsory action under anti-discrimination law?
The case of Dr van Gend makes a mockery of the antidiscrimination law. It lowers the value of free speech in Australia. If people like Dr van Gend are forced to appear before the Anti-Discrimination Commission of Queensland that is a threat to one of Australia's greatest freedoms: the right to free speech. It is a major disincentive to people making a contribution to debate across Australia. Tomorrow will be a sad day for free speech in Australia. How has a country like Australia come to this?
Anti-discrimination bodies should not be used as star chambers by those who simply do not like what someone else says.