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Identity on the line in the fallout over Anzac free speech

  • 28 April 2017


It feels like no public holiday is complete without its subsequent media scandal. Anzac Day is particularly fraught, considering the sensitivities around the day.

This year the scandal revolves around a Facebook post by Yassmin Abdel-Magied (pictured), a commentator and host of ABC program Australia Wide. It read: 'LEST. WE. FORGET. (Manus, Nauru, Syria, Palestine ... )'

Even though the post was quickly withdrawn and an apology issued, the backlash has lasted more than four days. It was enough to warrant a front page story on The Daily Telegraph, a call for Abdel-Magied's dismissal by the deputy prime minister and public repudiations by half a dozen government front benchers and several other politicians, including Pauline Hanson.

It's ironic that the very politicians and commentators who constantly rail against political correctness are now apoplectic about a woman being politically incorrect. Free speech warriors like George Christensen are, seemingly without irony, calling for her to be silenced.

The terrifying fury of the reaction is enough to make anybody shy away from anything but total patriotic observance of the day. Anything less, such as Abdel-Magied's post, is seen as 'deeply reprehensible' showing 'no love for Australia whatsoever'.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied was free to make that Facebook post on Anzac Day, and politicians and columnists are free to express their displeasure. She apologised and withdrew the post. Nobody was arrested, charged or even sued, and so far nobody has lost their job or their platform to speak in future. That's what free speech is.

Setting aside the fact that Manus and Nauru are not wholly separate issues from Australian military activity — many of those held in these facilities are from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria — I'm willing to accept Mitch Fifield's assertion that 'Anzac Day is reserved as an occasion to honour the service and sacrifice of our men and women in uniform'.

At its core, Abdel-Magied's post was lamenting violence done to innocent people in many parts of the world. The execution was inelegant, but given that Anzac Day is partially about the horror of violence and war, it's a sentiment not entirely incompatible with the day.


"The campaign to remove Abdel-Magied from the national broadcaster and question her Australianness is a move to control what an Australian looks and sounds like."


Does talking about harm done to others on a day designed to make us remember these things really constitute 'making political mileage' thereby 'demeaning our war heroes'? It's up