The Right To
Orator of the Year
Each of you has come here today with an impassioned plea for the
protection of important human rights. How have you done that?
How have you convinced us of the worth of your cause? Words made
into sentences, spoken out loud. Speech.
We know that you are free to speak because the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights protects what we like to call free
speech in Article 19, which provides that everyone has the right to
freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes the right to
hold opinions without interference.
What better place to test this thesis, about being free to speak, than
at our own prestigious Speech Night. It’s your moment as Captain to
strut and fret your hour upon the stage. You’re free to speak. Why
then does every girl start her speech in just the same way? Are you
remembering now, what I didn’t do this morning? In every speech,
every possible person, is addressed, greeted, in rank order.
What is going on? Put simply, I suppose, each girl is tempering
her speech to ensure that she does not give offence.
Well, you might say we need a bit more respect these days. But
recently this trade-off between the freedom to speak and a right
to be offended has become a topic for serious debate.
But we’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves – that’s about the limits
that should apply to freedom of speech. It warrants further
consideration, but let’s get you on board with the basic concept first.
Freedom of speech goes to the heart of human dignity for it is what
we use to defend all other rights and freedoms. History is littered with
despotic systems that understood that free speech was their worst
enemy. Today many governments restrict the ability of their citizens
to express an opinion, in order to close out the opposition.
In Australia, the Human Rights Commission advocates for free
speech. Amnesty International works for those who suffer in order
to speak, around the world.
An example: in Abu Dhabi, a woman was jailed for ‘writing bad
words’ but what she had done was post a photo of someone abusing
the rights of others by parking illegally in a disabled car spot.
The freedomof themedia to publish and comment, is fundamental
to understanding exactly what is going on in society. Wemight wonder
if there is truly balance on the
, but think of Peter
Greste, the Australian journalist who languished in jail for tarnishing
Egypt’s image by broadcasting ‘false’ information.