OPINION: Donald Trump needs to be held to account, so do Australian political leaders

Speech may be free, but it is not absolute nor without responsibility

What is it with some Australian political leaders appearing more concerned with the world's most powerful leader being banned from the social media platform Twitter rather than to call him out for inciting violence?

Further, why is it so difficult to condemn the President of the United States for the role he played in encouraging American "patriots" who he "loves" to act deliberately and unlawfully?

What happened last week was aptly described by President-Elect Joe Biden as insurrection.

Five people died including a police officer; the mob violently assaulted another. A Confederate flag, a battle symbol of the Civil War, found its way into the United States Capitol held aloft by a bearer yet to be identified, and boisterous and gloating MAGA supporters posed for pictures in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office as politicians and staffers ran to hide.

Critics of President Donald Trump's ban from Twitter decry the removal of perceived free speech as an assault on hard-fought democratic freedoms. Well, speech may be free, but it is not absolute nor without responsibility.

The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States says:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances".

And in Australia, the Attorney-General's Department makes clear the notion of responsibility:

"The right to freedom of expression extends to any medium, including written and oral communications, the media, public protest, broadcasting, artistic works and commercial advertising. The right is not absolute. It carries with it special responsibilities, and may be restricted on several grounds. For example, restrictions could relate to filtering access to certain internet sites, the urging of violence or the classification of artistic material".

Twitter is a platform that pushes the boundaries of free speech. However, it is also a platform that many of us use for engagement with the media and politicians, and to scroll for the latest news.

Twitter is governed by strict rules guidelines and responsibilities including:

"Violence: You may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people. We also prohibit the glorification of violence.

"Civic Integrity: You may not use Twitter's services for the purpose of manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes. This includes posting or sharing content that may suppress participation or mislead people about when, where, or how to participate in a civic process."

Many Republicans are pushing just as forcefully for the impeachment of the President and for the Vice President, Mike Pence, to invoke the 25th Amendment paving way for him to become President should Trump be removed from office before Biden's inauguration.

President Trump should be held to account for his role in the unprecedented storming of the Capitol Building.

And to our Australian political leaders: You may not "... hold a hose, mate...", but you do have a responsibility to call out those who fan the flames and stoke the fire.

  • Brian Wightman, State Australian Education Union manager, former Property Council of Australia chief executive, Tasmanian Attorney-General and school principal.
This story Speech may be free, but it is not absolute nor without responsibility first appeared on The Examiner.