Tuesday, June 25, 2013

We all deserve the right to be free to disagree

Why is the Tasmanian Government so eager to repeat the Gillard Government's attack on freedom of speech?

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2012, currently before the State Parliament, is an almost exact replica of a Bill that got the Commonwealth Government into so much trouble earlier this year and sparked a national debate on human rights.

Late last year the Gillard Government introduced the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012.

The Bill was an attack on free speech under the guise of consolidating multiple laws into a single piece of legislation.

Far from just harmonising existing laws, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill planned to make radical and unprecedented attacks on Australians' legal rights — making it unlawful to offend or insult anybody on the basis of their political opinion in any ''work-related area''.

Incredibly broad in its scope, the Bill would have been an onerous burden on public and private life.

The onus of proof was also reversed, and not only would defendants have to prove their defendants have to prove their innocence, they would also have to foot the legal bill even if they were ultimately found to have done nothing wrong.

The Commonwealth Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was forced to abandon the Bill after the great public outcry.

Now Tasmania aims to strengthen its anti-discrimination laws with a Bill that makes every mistake Canberra made.

The Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill 2012 takes away Tasmanians' right to speak and think freely.

The Tasmanian Bill has passed in the Lower House, and is now under consideration in the Legislative Council.  It could become law by the end of the month.

Our democracy is dependent upon our freedom of speech.  It allows us to have the freedoms that we take for granted.  It takes a free voice to be able to shout the government down when our rights are threatened.  If we are not free to disagree we cannot protect our rights from being infringed upon.

Section 17 of the Tasmanian Bill makes it unlawful for anyone to ''offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule another person''.  The proposed Bill will make more than 22 different types of conduct that could ''offend'' unlawful.

One of the most dangerous limitations on free speech in the Bill is that offence can be caused on the basis of a ''political belief''.

Furthermore, it covers any offence in ''connection with'' employment, education, accommodation, club membership or ''provision of facilities, good and services''.  The list goes on.

All areas of life potentially fall under that very broad legislative umbrella.  It could be interpreted so that wherever anyone works, shops or even sleeps is covered by the new law.  It leaves all manner of public and private spaces open to scrutiny.  This renders a bread and milk run a potential legal minefield because you may unintentionally offend a member of staff at the supermarket.

Our ''political beliefs'' arguably form many of our opinions, especially as our society is increasingly monitored by the government.  We live in a society where the majority of what we buy, watch, read and the industry we work in is regulated.  And this regulation is growing.  By restricting personal opinions, the Bill is stifling our free speech.  The legislation attacks the heart of our liberal democracy.  Freedom of expression has allowed us to have the important debates that have shaped important debates that have shaped society into what it is today.

A free society is one that allows its citizens to freely hold opinions.  Instead of undermining free speech, the Tasmanian Government should be seeking to protect it.

A good start would be to repeal the current definition of discrimination.

Tasmania has followed the Commonwealth every step of the way.  It shouldn't stop now.

Tasmania should keep treading the Federal path and abandon the Bill, just as Canberra was forced to scrap its own anti-discrimination legislation.

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