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The Right To


Florrie McKay

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.