At a wake last week, after we had spent time reflecting on the wonderful life of my father-in-law who had been taken too soon, conversation turned to other issues. Eventually discussion turned to coronavirus and the vaccine. Just like the overall population there were a variety of views about whether to get the vaccine or how much you trust experts.
We have been well served by our health authorities over the past year. That does not mean that we should not allow people to criticise them though. The best way to prove that all human beings are fallible is to start proclaiming that some are infallible. Pride comes before a fall.
Straight after the funeral I flew to Canberra and was struck by the difference between the respectful and open discussion over a cup of tea with family and friends, and the censorship culture that has overtaken our nation's capital.
A Member of Parliament, Craig Kelly, was being targeted by Labor, and much of the media, because he had expressed views not consistent with the latest advice from health authorities.
Do Australians need protection from their own Members of Parliament? Should we immediately censor any controversial views because we lack so little confidence in the common sense of Australians?
We are a free society and we have always had a healthy disrespect for authority. I am on the side of free speech not just because it respects the rights of individuals but because it is the best way to get most people to do the right thing, most of the time.
The best way to lose a debate is to kill it. There are people concerned about whether to take a coronavirus vaccine. According to a poll last week, around half of Australians remain unsure whether to take the vaccine. Shutting down those with different views will only further convince some of them to stay sceptical. They would reason, if this person was not saying the truth, why are they desperate to shut him down?
This effect is even worse in the case of Craig Kelly because what I have seen him say is not even that controversial. For example, he is not anti-vaccination, and while his conclusions are different from the authorities, he has the support of some health specialists.
Craig Kelly has been supporting the use of two common drugs, hydroxychloroquine (used to treat malaria) and ivermectin (used to treat hair lice), as potential ways to treat coronavirus symptoms. His views are supported by Professor Robert Clancy of the University of Newcastle. The drugs have also been used overseas to treat coronavirus.
Craig Kelly might end up being wrong. Lots of people have been wrong about medical treatments in the past. Someone sent me an ad this week from the 1950s, of a smiling baby emblazoned with the logo "No flies on me, thanks to DDT."
Imagine if our society had censored Rachel Carson who wrote the book *Silent Spring* in 1962. In that book she raised fears about the indiscriminate use of DDT and other pesticides, and is credited with leading to the greater regulation of their use.
In a free society there is no need to supress the views we disagree with, just argue against them. If your arguments are better you will win the day because Australians are reasonable people. Let's trust Australians, not try to silence them.