The Tasmanian Government amendments to its anti-discrimination laws keep restrictions on free speech.

The Tasmanian government has failed to fix Tasmania’s free speech problem with its proposed amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act, according to the Australian Christian Lobby.

Tabled yesterday in the Tasmanian lower house, ACL Tasmanian Director Mark Brown warned that the amendments do not remove the anti-free speech  elements in the Act and will mean Tasmanian laws will continue to be out of line with international standards.

In a letter to Government MPs, Mr Brown acknowledged the Liberal Government’s intention to deal swiftly with the bill.

“However, we do not believe that it achieves the stated goal – to better protect freedom of speech for all Tasmanians,” Mr Brown said.

“The ACL believes that the addition of a defence for religious purpose will likely only provide safeguards for a select group of Tasmanians with a religious motive. This does not protect free speech for the entire community and is unhelpful insofar as it sends the message that religious people are receiving special exemptions to do things which would otherwise be immoral.

The proposed amendment sends the message that freedom of religion is a narrow exemption to the law that society tolerates, but it is in fact a fundamental human right deserving of broad protection. The same is true for free speech for all Tasmanians, which the amendment does not protect at all.

“This restricts peoples’ views on public policy issues to their religious community only. That is not free speech, that is marginalisation of people of Faith.

“People should be allowed to express a point of view in public, not just within a religious community.

“A significant number of Tasmanians don’t have a religious basis for their objections to contentious issues like same-sex marriage.

“These people will also be left out in the cold and will continue to be exposed to legal action simply for expressing a view.

“The State Government has argued that there is a need to strike a better balance between free speech and protection from discrimination so implementing a narrow religious defence seems misdirected.

“Proponents of redefining marriage, such as Rodney Croome, who are strongly opposing changes to the Act, ask the question: ‘exactly what do anti-marriage equality advocates want to say that they can’t say now?’. 

“This is not the right question to be asking. The more appropriate question should be; ‘How does the Act suppress free speech and what should be done about it?’

“The anti-discrimination laws in Tasmania are being used as a weapon in political debate as we have seen with the case of Archbishop of Hobart, Julian Porteous, who was tied up for several months by the Anti-Discrimination Commission simply for putting the Catholic position on marriage,” Mr Brown said.

“The ACL joins many others, including former Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson, in warning that as long as hurting someone’s feelings is an offense, as exists under the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act, free speech will likely suffer.

The Anti-discrimination laws in Tasmania should be amended to reflect community desires for free speech and to bring it into line with other anti-discrimination legislation in Australia.

“Free speech should be afforded to all Tasmanians.”