Words: Grace Huck
October 2nd: Masses of conservatives are tapping out their favourite quotes from Animal Farm. Their worst nightmare, the Orwellian state, has come to fruition right here in Australia; its first victim? Look no further than Troy Newman.
On the 1st of October, that anti-abortion activist Troy Newman boarded a plane to Melbourne. Somehow able to board an international flight without a Visa, Newman asked his followers to pray (literally) for his safe entry into Australia. He was, of course, immediately detained on arrival for contempt of Australian Immigration Laws.
The refusal to grant Newman a Visa caused a backlash by the Australian Christian Lobby, as well as some conservative politicians such as Peter Abetz, who wrote in reference to Newman’s refusal that “intolerance is sadly becoming a growing reality in our nation”. The general consensus of conservative politics seems to be that political correctness has gone mad, and free speech has been forever lost to us in the place of state censorship.
Now, of course we should be concerned about the right to hold opinions freely, and to freely and openly express and discuss the merits of those opinions. An open discourse is the cornerstone of a democratic society. There is, however, an undeniable difference between holding and encouraging a specific view on abortion, and harassing and victimising those who chose to disagree.
Every visa application is subject to a ‘character assessment’. Visas can also be rejected, among other things, on the grounds that an individual might.
· Harass, molest, intimidate or stalk another person
· Vilify a segment of the Australian community
· Incite discord in the Australian community or in a part of it
Troy Newman is currently seeking to review the matter. Mrs Newman told ABC that she doesn’t know “what they think he’s going to do here.” Newman, however, has long been an anti-abortion proponent in the US, heading an organisation called Operation Rescue West in the past. This organisation is responsible for the harassment of women entering abortion clinics, clinic workers and medical staff, taking the form of picketing, displaying graphic images outside abortion clinics and distributing the personal details of clinic workers so that they are able to be harassed at their homes. Reports of this systematic harassment come in vast contrast to statements from Newman, who claims that he stands for “peaceful intervention”. Newman has even likened women who have abortions, as well as the doctors who perform abortions, to criminals and murderers.
Describing the decision to revoke his Visa as “a heavy-handed display of totalitarianism” from our “proabortion Immigration Minister,” Newman seems perfectly able to express his opinions, both within the US and to his audience in Australia. The discourse is open. His opinion is being broadcast as openly as ever. What is being prevented here is the systematic victimisation of women who seek to exercise autonomy over their own bodies.
There is sharp and obvious distinction that needs to be made between allowing the discourse to remain open, and protecting the emotional and physical welfare of women and the medical community. Newman’s Visa was revoked to not to prevent him from speaking, but to prevent him from seeking out and harassing, or encouraging other to seek out and harass, one particular group of women and health professionals. As Public Health Association of Australia chief executive, Michael Moore, has stated, “In an Australia that respects women there is no place for Troy Newman.”
Newman returned to the US two days ago. His appeal is currently under review by the high Court.