3 March 2016

The Australian Christian Lobby welcomes the findings by the Australian Law Reform Commission that a review of Australian anti-vilification laws is in order.

ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report, Traditional Rights and Freedoms - Encroachments by Commonwealth Laws, made it clear that anti-discrimination laws may unjustifiably interfere with free speech.

“ACL’s recent comments on Australia’s anti-discrimination laws were criticized by some, but the Australian Law Reform Commission yesterday expressed concerns that parallel some of the same issues, citing a large number of submissions received by the Freedoms Inquiry in support,” Mr Shelton said.

“The Australian Law Reform Commission’s view that section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act ought to be reviewed on the ground that it may unjustifiably interfere with freedom of speech gives weight to ACL’s view that other anti-vilification laws, including state-based laws, also over-reach to limit free speech.

“The problematic words of section 18C, which were singled out, are exactly the same as those in section 17 of the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act,” he said.

“The Tasmanian law is actually far more restrictive because it extends the same language not just to the protected attribute of race, but also to 21 other attributes. This restricts speech on a huge range of subjects including political matters like the upcoming marriage plebiscite.

“The ALRC has rightly indicated that any review of 18C should include a review of anti-vilification laws more generally. The ALRC’s view that such a review is in order parallels what ACL has been saying publically.

“These laws go beyond the scope of international norms and treaties, effectively setting up a right not to be offended which prevails over the right of free speech. This is a bad precedent to set and cannot be justified by any relevant human rights soft law.”

Mr Shelton expressed his thanks for the ALRC’s extensive referencing from ACL’s submissions on the appropriate limits of anti-discrimination law more generally.

ACL argued in its submission that Australia’s anti-discrimination laws should better reflect international law.


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