Senator Claire Chandler on Cancel Culture

Senator Claire Chandler

Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March

Speech to the Dawson Centre 20 May 2021

Thank you very much for to David and the Christopher Dawson Centre for the invitation to attend this launch.

Congratulations to Kevin Donnelly for putting together what is an incredibly timely and important publication featuring contributions from some of Australia’s finest thinkers.

We are at a point in time right now where leadership and fortitude are required simply to ensure that average Australians are able to participate in public debate, where normal, sensible mainstream views are declared unacceptable by unelected and unaccountable elites.

Anyone who believes that’s an exaggeration must not be aware that in Australia right now, you can be fined for ‘liking’ a Facebook post. You can be summoned by a discrimination commission for writing a newspaper article. In Victoria, you can now be threatened with jail for talking about biology with your own children. 

Women have been kicked out of volunteer organisations and female academics have been the subject of open letters calling for their sacking – because they expressed their views about women’s rights.

Far from cancel culture being an invention or conspiracy theory, as some like to claim, the above examples have happened to Australians (women in most cases) in the past year alone.

Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March studies in depth a wide array of areas in which this phenomenon is negatively affecting public policy, freedom of speech, and even scientific progress.

For me, ‘Cancel Culture’ is simply defined. It is about making it as difficult as possible for someone to express a view or make statements which undermines the left-wing orthodoxy, and to limit the reach of those who do speak out so that the general public are not exposed to facts and analysis critical of that orthodoxy.

There’s nothing new, of course, in people claiming that nobody should listen to their political opponents or ideological opposites. There have always been people, from all parts of the political spectrum, who have forgotten or overlooked the importance of free speech and the fact that the only form of free society worth having is one where people who disagree with you can speak freely.  

What is new is that in the past we would never have expected to have a media class, academic class, corporate class, political class and public servant class actively enforcing the idea that public debate must stick to the approved left-wing narrative.

We also find now that there is a huge disconnect between what ordinary Australians think and what the approved discourse of the cultural elite is.

Most concerningly, we’re even seeing that when scientific fact undermines left-wing dogma, it is not the science but the dogma which is being backed by powerful institutions.

Nowhere is this clearer than in the field of identity politics, where truly staggering pronouncements about what constitutes acceptable language and hate speech are made on Twitter – and then adopted by corporate, government and charity sectors, seemingly oblivious to the fact what they’re signing up to is totally unwanted by the general public and those who are directly affected.

I still have to pinch myself sometimes to check I’m not living in a dream world when people describe it as ‘bigoted’ or ‘hate speech’ to say that women’s sport is designed for female people, and that it isn’t fair or safe for biological males to play women’s sport.

Whether or not these attacks have the effect of making the individual they’re targeted at withdraw and apologise, they inevitably do achieve their main objective – to make the next person think twice about speaking up.

Even Caitlyn Jenner, probably the most famous trans woman in the world and a former men’s Olympic Gold medallist, has been labelled as transphobic and hateful for recently stating that biological males shouldn’t be playing in women’s and girls’ sports.

The issue of women’s sports and sex-based rights for women has become one of the clearest examples of cancel culture tactics being employed to help cement plainly illogical and unscientific theories into law and policy.

The playbook for activists is perfectly clear, yet governments and institutions are either unwilling or unable to stand up against it.  The playbook goes like this: the activists declare their position as a necessary ‘diversity and inclusion’ initiative. Anyone against their position is against diversity and inclusion.

If you’re against diversity and inclusion, you’re declared to be causing harm and even violence to persecuted minorities. Therefore any opposition is ‘hate speech’.  Having declared normal, mainstream views as hate speech, you declare that hate speech is so prevalent in the community that governments must strengthen laws against hate speech.  Then you can start prosecuting and threatening to prosecute anyone who speaks out against the orthodoxy.

If someone challenges the orthodoxy on social media, you declare them a bigot or a hateful conservative. If media dare to publish anything challenging your article, you lodge a complaint about them platforming hateful views.  If anyone prominent speaks out against your position, a social media mob demands they are boycotted, de-platformed and labelled as hateful.

The activists and lobby groups go to businesses, universities and the public service and sign them up as ‘diversity champions’ if they agree to adopt policies mandating what is acceptable and offensive language.

Perhaps most chilling – the very meaning of the words that we use to present a rational, factual argument on the topic are changed through the enforcement of ‘acceptable and offensive language’ guides. Women now includes males. Anti-racism means dividing society on the basis of race.

The combined effect of these strategies is extraordinarily effective. Anyone who chooses to speak out risks being sanctioned by their employer, boycotted, targeted by ‘anti-discrimination’ zealots, abused on social media. Mainstream media will either ignore you or participate in the pile-on. Prominent people who you might expect to defend you will prefer to keep their heads down.

In this environment, it takes only a few short years before indoctrination sets in. How can people understand both sides of a debate when they’ve never heard one, or when the media tells you that one side of the debate is ‘hate speech’?

That is the end goal of cancel culture. By aggressively seeking to cancel the people who express an opposing view and their means to express it in mainstream media, eventually it is the idea itself that is cancelled.

That’s why this book is so important. As is every effort that is made by individuals, particularly experts and those with a public profile, to articulate ideas and opinions that challenge the status quo.  Speaking out, defying the cancel culture mob, inspires confidence and courage in others to do the same.

And speak out we must. Because it is not the good ideas and proven theories which rely on enforcing ‘no debate’.  It is the theories which can’t stand up to scrutiny and radical agendas which are opposed by sensible people regardless of politics which benefit from and rely on cancel culture.

Without cancel culture, prison authorities around the world would not be putting male sex offenders in women’s prisons.

Schools around the world would not be telling white students to apologise for their race.  Men wouldn’t be celebrated by the left for using social media to abuse women who are conservatives, or gender critical feminists who use the dictionary definition of the word ‘woman’.  Without cancel culture, sensible people would put a stop to this nonsense, not by banning it but by pointing out factually why they are bad ideas.  Instead, sensible people are telling themselves the sensible thing to do is keep your head down and not provoke the vocal minority.

What this book and those who were prepared to contribute to it does is keep the flame of debate and discussion alive.  Those who read it will come away not necessarily agreeing with everything that is said, but understanding that there are important debates to be had and how critical it is that those debates are allowed to happen.

Ultimately, though, the question of whether we can defeat cancel culture rests with those who have the largest influence and the biggest reach.  The tactics of cancel culture mobs rely on those they target being isolated. 

Cancel culture in universities relies on Vice-Chancellors failing to stand up for academics or students who are being targeted.  Cancel culture in business relies on CEOs allowing activists to tell their employees what the acceptable ways of speaking and thinking are.  And cancel culture in our society at large relies on governments which fail to protect free speech – or even worse actively seek to limit it.

One of the most nefarious tactics of the radical left is that it is they who are seeking to force their cultural ideology on to every aspect of society, but they have convinced many on the centre right that to oppose this is to participate in a so-called ‘culture war’.

I’m sure all of you here today will agree that it is a gross misunderstanding to characterise the defence of free speech and open debate as akin to participating in a culture war.  Another pervasive view is that there are more important things to worry about than cancel culture or defending free speech.

Why worry about people being unfairly accused of hate speech when there’s a global pandemic? Why worry about divisive and dangerous ideas going unchallenged when we’re trying to grow the economy and create jobs?

This ignores the fact that freedom of speech is a foundational principle of western society. Once you begin to give up on freedom of speech for things you don’t think are a top priority, then it’s a matter of time before you find yourself unable to speak about the things you do find important.

You can take for granted that we’ll always have health challenges to overcome and we’ll always be trying to create more and better paid jobs.  But you definitely cannot take for granted that we will always have freedom of speech or a media and cultural environment which allows debate on all issues, no matter how complex or sensitive.

So thank you once again to David Daintree and the Dawson Centre, Kevin Donnelly and all the contributors to this book, and to you all for being here tonight to help launch Cancel Culture and the Left’s Long March.