Bill Leak and the Ethics of Free Speech

Women were burned at the stake for being witches.

Homosexuals didn’t get a stake. They were thrown on with the rest of the faggots. Hence the slur.

I went to a single-sex Catholic school that promised to create ‘gentlemen’.  Even though I was in the closet, kids called me faggot. Yes, other children laughed, and yes, staff let it pass. Eventually the fear that word inspired curated a desire to be straight so acute that I managed to convince myself, fleetingly, that I was.

This is not to frame my life as being traumatic. My immediate family is accepting of my sexuality, although it took them some time. I am also white and comfortably positioned in the upper echelons of the middle class. I have a good life. But even though I live with my partner (and our Chihuahua Spooky-Sue) I still struggle with my own internalised homophobia to this day. I’m in the closet at work. I’m afraid of my extended family. I check my surroundings each time I reach out to touch my partner in public. I’m constantly engaged in an act of self-policing: adjusting my presentation in a proverbial mirror, occasionally tugging at the hems of my personality to drag it straight (often unsuccessfully) so that I can pass through my day unremarkably. Occasionally amongst friends I drag my own sexuality, wearing clothing which defies the typical masculine presentation. This is a behaviour we are all engaged in: a moderation of our personalities to make ourselves part of society. Increasingly I am finding these acts of moderation in regards to my queerness an increasing annoyance. Why is it that I should have to moderate myself? Cartoons like Bill Leak’s—which depict marching queer people as Nazi’s—are why.

I should declare that I’m not really for marriage. It’s just not for me. I find the idea of belonging to somebody, of engaging in a ritual that has for centuries been a way of commodifying women to be problematic. I am not in the majority with this opinion and I’m okay with that. The meaning of marriage is changing alongside feminism and that’s a good thing. Love and how it is measured and moderated means different things for alternate members of the community. Conversations around these divisions and the meaning of marriage should be able to be discussed respectfully within the community. This is true of the marriage equality debate, the details of which I will not reiterate here, except with the caveat that I am unreservedly for changing the law to make it possible without the unnecessary emotional and fiscal expenditure of a plebiscite.

Bill Leak’s cartoon (The Australian, September 21st, 2016) which equates homosexuals or those for same-sex marriage as being a militant arm of the Nazi party is an example of two things: a complete failure to contribute to a reasoned debate and an erasure of the histories I have just explored.


Cartoon by Bill Leak, The Australian, 21 September 2016.

To equate homosexuals with a militant arm of the Nazi party is unthinkably offensive, especially given that queer people were targeted and murdered during the Holocaust. Flipping the dynamic is a gross perversion of the truth—queer parties aren’t seeking out straight cis people in their homes, abducting them, forcing them into labour and then exterminating them. While I am aware that Nazism has come to mean fascist in a contemporary context, the fact that this cartoon made it through an editorial team that didn’t consider this particular element of the joke is a gross failure on The Australian’s behalf.

When speaking to a broader historical context, I think a far more insidious aspect of this cartoon slips into focus. I opened with the horrific history of the term ‘faggot’ because I think it illustrates the dehumanisation of queer people with a shocking potency. And taking this into account, the loudness and demand to be heard that Leak equates to Nazism becomes something different: it is a demand—a desperate need to reclaim equal recognition as a human being in society. When one acknowledges the trajectory of queer people in their quest for equal recognition of this, the vitriol, the need to call out homophobia and those who practice it casually gains an urgency that is erased by Leak’s cartoon.

There will be those who come out, as Jennifer Oriel (The Australian, 2016) amongst others did, arguing that Leak’s opinion is part of the debate and an important illustration of free speech. Do not let this delusion fool you. Even if the Australian Press Council finds your factually incorrect and offensive work about a minority, it does not technically qualify for the legal requirements of hate speech. It does not work to diminish its hateful potential. Oriel makes the claim that the left is waging a war on free speech. If by free speech she means the espousal of factually incorrect and offensive comments then yes, she’s right. I’m at war. Cartoons and editorials like the one under discussion here don’t start important conversations—they only work to trivialise or demean already oppressed groups of people. There will be some who will point to the positive outcomes of Leak’s last controversial cartoon which features an Indigenous father who didn’t know the name of his own child. Yes, the fact that the cartoon was condemned widely was great and the #IndigenousDads campaign was truly beautiful. But conversely, I’d argue that the conversation even occurred is offensive. The fact that Indigenous Fathers had to defend themselves in counter to such an unfounded and racist proclamation exceeds comprehension.

Should Bill Leak be prosecuted or fined for saying these things? Well, he can’t be. But The Australian doesn’t have to publish his work. In what is sure to be a long and bitter campaign leading up to the plebiscite, they have the rare potential to not only shape the nature of the conversation, but the outcome itself. As a right wing media organisation the chances of them endorsing a ‘yes’ campaign is dubious. Bill Leak will probably defend his work as he has historically, labelling criticism like mine as a “tantrum” (Alex Bruce-Smith, 2016). The Press Council will probably once again dismiss complaints lodged against this cartoon as being in line with a legal free speech as they did last time (Meade, 2016). To campaign against free speech is a dangerous platform. I acknowledge this. I am lucky to live in a curious pocket of time in which I can live a homosexual lifestyle comfortably and without fear, because there were those who were able to speak before me. Free speech is vital to engendering intelligent political discourse. But within this lies an ethical dilemma, one in which writers and publishers should be asking: is the power of free speech being used to side-step truth in order to preach hate?

Words by Jack Francis.


Bruce-Smith, A 2016, ‘Bill Leak Now Reckons You’re All Dummies For Not ‘Getting’ His Racist BS’, Pedestrian, August 5, 2016, retrieved 21 September 2016:

Meade, A 2016, ‘Press Council Declines to Sanction the Australian for Bill Leak Cartoon’, The Guardian, 6 September 2016, retrieved September 21 2016:

Oriel, J 2016, ‘21st Century Left Waging War on Free Speech’, The Australian, August 15 2016, retrieved September 21 2016:


Everything Eddie McGuire didn’t say—his silence spoke louder than any ‘shotgun apology’ could

When Eddie McGuire landed himself knee-deep in a media s*it storm for his ‘playful joke’ about drowning a respected, female colleague in icy, cold water, it was a very strange affair.

It was strange that the media waited a week to attack McGuire, not acting until days after the broadcast had been aired. It was strange that callers joined in on the joke. I think of the little girls that were forced to listen to this on the morning drop-off to school. It was strange (but not surprising) that McGuire refused to apologise … until the eleventh hour.

This may be Eddie’s most disastrous fiasco to date—but it’s far from his first. Let’s not forget, this is the same man who compared Adam Goodes to King Kong, threatened to ‘bone’ journalist, Jessica Rowe while she was under employment with the Nine Network and thinks ‘mussies’ is a term of endearment for Muslims.

But now we go to that ‘shotgun apology’ that was uploaded to the Collingwood FC website very late the same evening.

I can only imagine that Eddie didn’t relent without a good tantrum. His apology said a lot.  It ticked all the clichés of a carefully crafted PR apology. It even managed to squeeze in some justification.

If there’s one thing worse than having to make an apology—it’s having to sit through a fake one.

In the spin that lasted just two and a half minutes, much was said. But what wasn’t said screamed out from behind McGuire’s carefully composed veneer.

Here’s my deconstruction of Eddie McGuire’s apology

‘TO THE Collingwood and the football community at large, I’ve spent the day taking counsel from friends and foes, senior government politicians, the AFL and community leaders.’

Translation: ‘This apology was made under duress—please buy it.’

‘In particular, Rosie Batty and an old footballing and political mate, Phil Cleary, both of whom have seen first-hand the tragic consequences of domestic violence.’

Translation: ‘I have no problem using the tragic circumstances of others to get myself out of hot water.’

 ‘I’m long past thinking of Caroline as anything but Caroline Wilson.’

Translation: ‘I’m long past thinking of Caroline as anything but one of the guys.’

‘In the last 24 hours, and particularly since this morning, I’ve seen the impact of the comments on her.’

Translation: ‘In the last 24 hours, and particularly since this morning, I’ve seen the impact of the comments on ME.’

‘No person should ever feel uneasy or threatened in football’s family.’

Translation: ‘Remember the 90s when my career would have never been threatened by this? Ah, memories.’

‘For that, I am deeply sorry and I apologise unreservedly to Caroline for putting her in that position.’

Translation: ‘Are you … are you buying this yet?’

‘I am a father and a husband.’

Translation: ‘My wife and kids like me … can’t you too?’

 ‘I am really disappointed that I made remarks that are at odds with my views on the place of women in modern Australia.’

Translation: ‘I am really disappointed that I can’t crack one little drowning joke without a public apology.’

‘On July 23, our club, in conjunction with the Pratt Foundation, will host a scheduled fundraising function with Rosie Batty.’

Translation: ‘When all else fails throw money at the problem.’

‘Today, on what would have been her son Luke’s 14th birthday, and having spoken to Rosie earlier, I’ll be making a personal contribution to support the victims of domestic violence.’

Translation: ‘Seriously, other people’s tragedies are a rich tapestry to exploit.’

‘At a time when I am so looking forward to being president of three women’s sporting clubs — Collingwood women’s football, Collingwood netball and the Melbourne Stars women’s cricket club, it is important to show leadership on this issue.’

Translation: ‘I’m letting them play professional sport out of my own pocket. Isn’t that enough?’

‘That includes being able to admit you are wrong and willing to learn.’

Translation: ‘I haven’t learnt jack and with the attention span of the Australian media—neither will most of you.’

Sponsors and even Football Clubs are removing themselves from Eddie, and there’s hope in that. But as I sit here writing this just over a week of bad publicity has washed over Eddie McGuire—the furore is already simmering down.

Caroline Wilson may accept McGuire’s apology—but I and many other people will find it unforgivable and unforgettable.

Words by Natalie Corrigan.


#CrepesOnCampus at Deakin


It was a windy but sunny Wednesday morning and I was going in to work soon, but that pink van on Mutant Way had an irresistible smell luring me in. I’m a sucker for Nutella crepes on a good day, but paired with the knowledge that my money was going towards the relief of youth homelessness assured me that it was five dollars well spent.

The DUSA club SeCo hosted a visit from Crepes for Change: Australia’s first non-profit crepe van and they’re raising money to try and get young people off the streets. When they brought their van to Deakin a few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of chatting to the founder of the organisation, Dan Poole, while he helped cook and sell crepes to other Deakin students—after I’d brought and eaten one for myself, of course!

But in all seriousness, youth homelessness is a real issue and the broader community are not aware of how big it is. While I was talking to Dan, he told me that in Australia there are forty thousand people between the ages of twelve and twenty eight who are homeless. To me, that number is shocking.

In October last year, Dan, his brother Liam, and a team of their friends, came up with the idea of starting a crepe van to raise money for homeless young people and decided they had to make it happen. Dan liked the idea of social enterprise and using his entrepreneurial skills to run the charity like a business, to ensure that it would sustain itself in the long run. The team used crowdfunding to raise four thousand dollars, which they used to buy the crepe van. After that, they applied for grants and sought sponsorship from other organisations.

Finally, the crepe-making began, and according to a post on Facebook by SeCo, the day they came to Deakin in August made $500 dollars. With the money they raise, Crepes for Change will help train underprivileged young people in hospitality so that they can find employment and stability.

‘There’s not a single major city in the world who have an eliminated homelessness,’ Dan says. ‘So it would be cool if Melbourne could be the first.’

The money raised at Deakin in August was enough to train two disadvantaged young people in skills that would help them to find stable employment, according to SeCo’s Facebook post.

Another goal of the Crepes for Change team is to fund other social enterprises around Melbourne who strive to eliminate homelessness.

So, five dollars for a delicious crepe and the alleviation of youth homelessness in Australia sounds like a pretty good deal to me. The Crepes for Change van will be back on campus at Deakin in Burwood on Monday 7th September, from 11am until 3pm and I’ll be lining up for another bite to eat.

You can learn more about Crepes for Change by visiting their website:

SeCo is also hosting a Social Entrepreneurship Conference, which Dan will be speaking at. You can find more information and purchase tickets here:

 – Bonnee Crawford