Freedom of speech, according to Cato’s Letters, is “the great bulwark of liberty; they prosper and die together: And it is the terror of traitors and oppressors, and a barrier against them. It produces excellent writers, and encourages men of fine genius.” It is a fundamental right that all Australian citizens, both young and old, should enjoy. Free speech should be protected and fought for, with only restrictions placed on it when it comes into direct conflict with other human rights. The ability to exercise one’s right to free speech is critical to learning, intellectual discovery and a free society as a whole.
Inscribed in the sandstone façade above the main entrance of the University of Queensland is the legend: “Place of light, liberty and learning”. For nobody is freedom of speech more important than it is for young people; at no time is it more important than their time at our universities.
Laws like section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act place unnecessary curtailments on the freedom of speech of all Australians. Whilst free speech can legitimately be limited when it conflicts with other human rights, there is no right protecting people from being offended or insulted. These limits work, instead, to stifle debate and discussion around issues that some may find controversial or even challenging.
Suppressing the exposure of students to ideas and views hinders the development of critical reasoning