Sorry, Not Sorry: WA Government Backflips on Religious Discrimination Attempt – For Now

Last week, the Western Australian Government was sent back to the discrimination drawing board after its slipshod and clumsy attempt to cancel the Australian Christian Lobby was exposed and dismantled.

In early July 2021, the Perth Theatre Trust, a WA government entity, rejected ACL’s application to book public venues for its travelling roadshow “The Truth of It Live” on the basis that it did not conform to the political views of the government. By mid-July 2021, amidst mounting political and public pressure and legal representation provided to the ACL by the HRLA, Premier Mark McGowan’s government retreated – the ACL was given the green light to hire taxpayer-funded venues.

But there is every indication that the WA government is not sorry. In fact, the Minister for Culture suggests the problem was not the cancellation of the ACL, it was the amateurish and blatantly unlawful way that it was carried out. The WA Government appears to be committed to deplatforming the ACL. It will just ensure that, in the future, this will be done under the guise of tolerance, diversity and inclusion.

On Facebook, the ACL shared a copy of the WA State Solicitor’s letter backflipping on the issue. The letter is instructive.

One would expect that a dramatic about-face of this kind would be accompanied by expressions of apology or regret for unlawful conduct, but such is not to be found within the letter.

Indeed, what is entirely absent from this correspondence is any expression by the WA Government of insight, acknowledgement, apology or remorse for its authoritarian attempt to shut down free speech.

Minister for the Arts David Templeman (the Minister responsible for the recent fiasco) released a statement on Friday empathising with the “concern in the arts community” likely to be generated by their failure to pull off this outrageous censorship.

The Minister also flagged the importance of “diversity, equality and inclusion” and pledged to ensure that any future venue hire policy would be in accordance with these values to keep their venues as “safe places”.

While these words once held particular meanings in the English language, it has been widely recognised that in today’s public discourse they now function as little more than cultural dog-whistles to signal one’s support for LGBT+ advocacy.

There is little real mystery about what sectors of the “arts community” are likely to experience “concern” at the ACL’s un-cancellation. One need only sample press coverage of this event to see who was so eager to see the ACL driven out of WA, and so disappointed that the cancellation was reversed.

Over the past week, representatives of Pride WA, Rainbow Futures WA, OUT South West, Transfolk of WA, Pride in Peel, Albany Pride, PFLAG Mandurah and just.equal have spoken out with one voice against the presence of the ACL in WA across both mainstream and LGBT+ advocacy media. The common denominator amongst every one of the ACL’s recent WA critics is impossible to overlook.

It is abundantly clear that the ACL was not cancelled because they are a political organisation, nor because their general political views don’t align with the WA Government (as the WA Government initially maintained in their reasons for cancellation), but because the ACL promotes orthodox Christian teachings on sexuality and identity that noisy activists want repressed.

Such repression will (as always) be masked by language of tolerance, diversity and inclusion and will lean heavily on the usual (highly contentious) concepts of “harm” and “safety” that are always the trojan horse for government suppression of free speech.

It appears from Minister Templeman’s statement that the WA Government will gladly be co-opted by a small group of noisy rainbow activists to help quash people and organisations who hold to orthodox Christian beliefs on sexuality and gender which activists want to stamp out.

The WA Government’s likely goal from here is to create a new venue hiring policy for publicly-owned venues that is not so brazenly authoritarian and overtly hostile to religion, but which gives a much more refined and shrewd basis for shutting down Christian voices and excluding them from the public square by utilising the diversity dog whistle.

A healthy democratic society must create space for the free exchange of ideas and participation by diverse voices. To achieve the best outcome for our policies and laws, people need to be able to express their beliefs and to participate in public debate. If Australians cannot freely communicate what they believe to be true and good without sanction, how will we as a community ever pursue the best possible outcome for Australia as a whole?

As executive arms of government increasingly police thought and expression like the WA Government has, they declare a culture war on freedom of thought, belief, expression and association – fundamental freedoms. Religious Australians who hold to unfashionable ideas and beliefs are increasingly excluded from the public square and silenced by seemingly banal government policy. This is an attack on religious Australians, but it will ultimately harm the flourishing of our pluralistic, multicultural society with implications far beyond the ACL and the Christian community.

The result of such an ideological cancel culture is a society of mandated opinions, excoriated religion and tepid groupthink. Such a society will not last long unless there is a firm cultural rejection of government cancel culture. The WA Government has backflipped, but it is not sorry. This issue will arise again. The ACL can hire public venues for its events for now. But the WA Government has made clear that it will work hard to achieve the same result in the very near future – deplatforming the ACL in the name of tolerance. Next time, the discrimination won’t be so slapdash and brazen.