Now that sounds a bit of a strange cocktail doesn’t it? But my daughter’s favourite book when she was little, and now my son’s favourite book, is the Australian classic, Grandpa’s Teeth.
It’s hilarious. And the artwork is astonishingly good. The basic story is that Grandpa loses his expensive set of false teeth and they can be found nowhere. The police chief, Inspector Rate, is called, Crime Stoppers gets onto it, the whole town searches for them. But they are nowt to be found. Things get out of hand. Things get serious. So serious that Grandpa – and the police – suspect pretty much anybody and everybody in the town of having stolen the teeth.
The end result is that the townsfolk are so worried that they may be suspected of stealing the teeth that everyone in the town smiles – all day, every day, “even at funerals” we are told, in order to prove that their teeth are their own. There’s something creepy about it all isn’t there, and captured brilliantly by Rod Clement:
I just love those smiling fish in the window. Anyway, I won’t tell you where the teeth are because that would spoil the story, but suffice to say, the town grinds to a halt, tourists stop coming through fear of all those smiling people, and the place becomes miserable. Freedom of expression – visual expression – is gone.
Here’s where the smile should drain from our faces, because today, for the first time in Australia, we are realising that it’s more than false teeth are at stake. Freedom of expression – verbal and religious expression in the public square – is under threat. Why today? Because today, the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Tribunal announced that the Catholic Church in that state may have a case to answer for causing offence through a pro-traditional marriage document sent home with students of its own schools.
In other words from today everyone better start smiling broadly, even at funerals.
The complaint was raised by Martine Delaney – a transgender, pro SSM Tasmanian Greens candidate – that the Catholic Church’s booklet, “Don’t Mess with Marriage”, is humiliating, offensive, and merely paid “lip service” to respecting SSM.
You can read an overview of the matter, and its implications in The Australian newspaper here.
Note this section in particular:
The notification of the upholding of the complaint said that under the Tasmanian Act there was a possible breach by “conduct that is offensive, intimidating, insulting or ridiculing of Ms Delaney and the class of same-sex attracted people”.
Anti-Discrimination Commissioner Robin Banks said the matter should be considered and that conciliation was “unlikely” to solve the issue because “it raises issues of public importance”.
So it didn’t take too long for a test case to come to the surface in Australia. And what it is proving is that the thing that people say wouldn’t happen, couldn’t possibly happen, shouldn’t be allowed to happen, plainly is happening. Start practicing your public smile now people, because frowning – or what someone considers frowning to be – may no longer be allowed.
Sure, have a straight face in private. Even cry in your house, grimace in your garage, or lament in the cloisters. But when you are out in public, it better be big cheesy grins all around. You don’t want to get hauled before Inspector Rate, now do you?
Right at the outset of an important public debate in our country, the tribunal has decided that conciliation is pretty much ruled out as being possible. Nothing much to smile about there.
And nothing much for many proponents of SSM to smile about either. Surely this hearing will be a classic case of overreach that will damage the brand, and put a plebiscite result at risk. There will be plenty of proponents of SSM silently gnashing their – real and false – teeth over Ms Delaney’s approach.
If this goes to tribunal it will show the average Australian what shutting down dissent on this matter -any matter – looks like. Never mind the fact that Australians are socially conservative (regardless of what the media elite state), they get downright angry if they feel they cannot voice their opinions.
I’m not sure who the last laugh will be on, but there seems little to smile about at the moment. It seems someone is pre-arranging the funeral of freedom of speech. The laugh’s on us.
Oh, by the way, if you don’t want to know where the teeth were, look away now: