He would say that, wouldn’t he, Julian Disney of the Press Council, who is really, seriously demanding the power to punish writers and publishers because free speech is, you know, not the same thing as appropriate speech, and he and his fine-wielding mates are the arbiters best qualified to say which is which.
What else could such a man think after a working lifetime atop the caring-industrial complex? Decades of drafting protocols and frameworks, of building budgets and then identifying the threats to underwrite them – that has been his stock in trade throughout a rich and rewarding career. It is all there in the law professor’s biography: President of the Australian Council of Social Service Organisations, a turn as chief executive hand-wringer at its international counterpart, conspicuous friend to social workers and “stakeholder” advocates whose careers and mortgages hang on an assured supply of the downtrodden and oppressed, the vilified and generally wretched. As one potted CV puts it, the very busy Disney has been “a Law Reform Commissioner and chair or member of government advisory committees on economic planning, superannuation, education, employment and training, public administration, superannuation, housing and other matters.” It seems what people say, write and publish is to be the next of this apparatchik’s “other matters”.
You could laugh at Disney – you should laugh at Disney and all the other empire-building poverty pimps – except his latest gambit to grab a bit more funding and influence is about as serious a threat as you might come across. Sure, it seems harmless enough now, even laughable, and who would object to press reports being bias-free and accurate? But Disney, he is the last person you would entrust with your right to express an unpopular or abrasive thought.
First, by any yardstick his record of success is deplorable. Ever notice how the number of “social justice” programmes and organisations continue to swell? Notice, too, how the ranks of the miserable always expand in lockstep. The greater the number of social workers and policy drones, the more they find syndromes and emerging ills to keep them occupied – and the harder Disney and his ilk campaign to secure and build their budgets.
But it is hypocrisy which is perhaps the most striking of Disney’s traits. Go back 40-odd years and he was a young student sharing a house in England with Geoffrey Roberston, whom he continues to rate as one of his best and closest friends. Roberston was making a name for himself as a gun hand in the legal team defending Richard Neville and the infamous Oz magazine against charges of publishing obscenity. It was a crusade that met with Disney’s approval, as he explained only recently to The Monthly:
Robertson offered up his services at a time in his life when he says he “knew all about the law and nothing about justice” and spent the trial “in the well of the court … as stagehand for the defence”.
Disney says this is a “huge understatement” of his role and that Robertson was the strategic brain and driving force behind the whole enterprise: “His performance, especially given his lack of experience, was a real tour de force.”
So, once upon a distant time, Disney backed the right to publish material that violated the then-Establishment’s standards. Now that he has become part of the New Establishment, well it is a different kettle of fish.