Changes To Anti-Discrimination Act Announced By Attorney-General

Changes To Anti-Discrimination Act Announced By Attorney-General

Tasmania Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin

Free Speech Is Everyone’s Right

Victor P Taffa

The Hodgman Government have introduced the Anti-Discrimination Amendment Bill to ensure all Tasmanians are able to express their views reasonably and in accordance with their beliefs, Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin said.

“This Bill attempts to strike the right balance between providing protection from discrimination and unlawful conduct, while still allowing for genuine public debate and discussion on important issues with clearer ground rules for everyone wishing to express views in any public debate.” Attorney-General Goodwin said.

Since foreshadowing the Government’s intentions to make adjustments to the legislation in this area late last year, there has been a considerable amount of discussion and it has become apparent that many are unclear what they can and cannot say in a public setting. The lack of clarity has stifled some from expressing legitimately held views.

“It is disturbing to hear Labor and the Greens react to our amendments by saying ‘tell us what you want to be able to say and we’ll tell you if you should be able to say it’. That is not freedom of speech, it’s the precise opposite.”

“Our Bill takes a range of measured, sensible and reasonable steps to allow for balance in public dialogue, and it does so in a way that is in line with provisions made in other jurisdictions.”

In brief, our Bill amends the current exception provisions relating to freedom of speech to:

  • Extend section 55 of the Act to include “religious purposes” (noting that it already provides exceptions for “academic”, “artistic”, “scientific” and “research purposes”);
  • The Act to require the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner to reject a complaint about unlawful conduct in certain, specified circumstances.

“Importantly, the Bill will not allow for hate speech under section 55 of the Act, as falsely claimed by some.” Attorney-General Goodwin said.

“Churches should have the right to articulate their views on social issues such as marriage, provided this is done in a respectful manner. That is why relevant legislation in Victoria and New South Wales contains a similar exception to that proposed in the Bill.”

“We are seeking to beef up the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner’s power to reject a complaint if the Commissioner believes that a reasonable person would not have anticipated their comments would cause offence, or if there is another valid defence under the Act.”

“In essence, this change would allow a complaint to be quickly rejected in circumstances where there is a valid defence, as opposed to the current system where parties may be subjected to lengthy, costly and stressful proceedings, even if the complaint is ultimately dismissed, meaning that in some circumstances the threat of a complaint may suppress debate.” Attorney-General Goodwin said.

“We would also ensure that if a complaint was rejected the person making the complaint would be able to appeal that decision, as it currently the case.”

“It is everyone’s right to be able to genuinely participate in public debate and discussion, while ensuring that there are appropriate protections in place to stop people going too far.” Attorney-General Goodwin said.