There is a major problem in Australia, especially New South Wales.
Ordinary people who have done nothing wrong are being harassed by activists who exploit anti-discrimination boards. They are intimidated, even fined, and silenced.
This is Katrina’s story.
She is a mother of four who runs a photography business specialising in families and babies.
Earlier this year she shared an ACL petition opposing “drag queen story time” in Brisbane City Council libraries. It immediately followed an event at which an adult entertainer with pornographic acting awards and a sexually explicit drag name had been reading to children.
She wrote the following, on her personal Facebook page:
"I can’t believe that I’ve just had to sign a petition to try and stop drag queen story time happening at libraries in our country. I can’t believe this actually happened in Brisbane last weekend. What happened to protecting children’s innocence and letting them just be kids? Why the need to have adult entertainers reading them stories. Hardly good role models with many involved in drugs and prostitution, etc. Feeling scared for our children’s future. Please sign and help save their innocence."
Katrina received an email from a well-known serial litigant and activist, Garry Burns:
"I’m a homosexual man. I do not take illicit drugs and I’m not involved in prostitution. I’m not a criminal. My homosexuality does not acquaint to criminality under any Australian state Crimes Act. I’ve lodged a complaint with the president of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board alleging you have incited contempt and/or hatred against me on the ground of my male homosexuality. If the complaint is accepted by the Board, the president’s delegate will write to you asking for a response.
"Katrina, you need to be aware that the internet is not like having a private conversation on the telephone with no lasting record. If the complaint is accepted by the president, I’ll be seeking an apology and monetary damages from you."
Shortly afterward, she received another email containing what Mr Burns alleged was a media release, headlined, 'For immediate release: Sydney gay rights activist lodges homosexuality vilification complaint against photographer over statement published by her on her Facebook page bracketing homosexuals with criminals.'
That headline is untrue. Katrina never mentioned homosexuals. She didn’t mention Mr Burns, either, who she doesn’t know from a bar of soap.
The media release was long, sexually explicit, and vulgar, so I’ll only quote the conclusion:
"Katrina clearly does not understand the law and in particular does not understand the provisions of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, said Mr Burns.
"My advice to her is to stick to commenting on matters she understands.
"Fellas, I’m just like a vicious Alsatian dog, once I grab hold of a gay-hater’s leg, I won’t let go until the bone is bloodied and bare. One way or another, I will get that remedy from Katrina even if it takes me years in court."
The release contained Katrina’s full name, address, and mobile phone number. This is a practice known as doxing – revealing someone’s personal information as a tactic of intimidation.
Then, Katrina received an email from the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board stating:
- That she had received a letter from them and failed to reply. She received no letter.
- That the Board has the power to compel Katrina to provide it with information.
- That if she does not respond it might send the complaint to the New South Wales Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT).
NCAT can impose a penalty on Katrina of up to $100,000.
The Board has taken this step despite being fully aware of these problems:
- The complainant, according to a recent decision by the Board itself, is vexatious and abuses process. Mr Burns has lodged hundreds of complaints.
- The complaint has no merit because Katrina made no reference to homosexuals at any time.
- Katrina and the complainant have no connection. She lives interstate in a separate jurisdiction to the Board itself.
This sort of thing happens too often. It begs the question whether the Board is on the complainant’s team. The only time it truly criticised Mr Burns related to a matter that threatened to become too high profile and subject to scrutiny. Otherwise, it has given him a free pass.
They accept complaints like this time and time and time again – hundreds of times from the same complainant. They evidently have no serious regard for their merit. They do not concern themselves with the unconscionable behaviour of the complainant himself.
They make the lives of ordinary people stressful and difficult, haul them through an intimidating legal process, and very often leave them thinking they will need to pay up to settle the matter, even if it has no chance of going anywhere in court.
This is a “discrimination industry.” It subjects innocent people to stress, pressure and financial loss. It ties up millions in the legal system. It gives relevance to bureaucrats, and it creates a mountain of precedent.
Notice what’s missing in all this: actual debate about drag queen story time.
When you can’t win an argument, you don’t have it. You sue.
This sort of thing has been happening all around the country for some years. When it happens to ordinary people without support structures to help them, nobody hears about it.
It’s time it stopped.
One of the few people trying to do something is Mark Latham MLC, member of the New South Wales Legislative Council for One Nation.
He is introducing a Bill to parliament to raise the threshold for complaint acceptance by the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board. It’s a small step, but it’s a start. It could help mums like Katrina who have done nothing wrong.
Latham said the following in parliament:
"At a time when the New South Wales court system has a huge backlog of matters, it is incredible that someone like Burns has been able to eat up resources elsewhere in the legal system at the anti-discrimination board and ENCAT. He has been treated as a credible complainant for these hundreds of matters when the scores of items he’s forwarded to my office since March 2019 clearly show he’s not of sound mind.
"Last year I raised this problem with the Attorney General Mr Speakman, but he has done nothing. This is a matter an Attorney General should care about, to close down the reckless abuse of the legal system for which he is responsible and carefully protect the proper use of taxpayer’s resources."
If you live in New South Wales, you may want to contact your local MP, especially upper house members, and support Mark’s work.
Further, contact the office of the New South Wales Attorney-General, Mark Speakman for the same reason.
Finally, do not stop speaking. That is what this system is designed to achieve – silence. It would be the worst possible outcome. Rather, speak carefully, and if you do find yourself caught up in a situation like this, then contact the Human Rights Law Alliance (HRLA).
HRLA is a law firm and sister organisation to ACL. They take up religious freedom cases to help people who face legal trouble for living out their faith. They are acting for Katrina.