Free Speech Reforms


The Australian people are rightly sick and tired of political correctness, which has been stifling our freedoms—including our freedom of speech. The destructive and divisive victimhood industry needs to be reined in, and that is what this legislation seeks to do. It seeks to get rid of the words 'offend, insult and humiliate' and to replace them with the word 'harass'. 

As a former Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Sev Ozdowski, quite rightly said:

There should be no right to not be offended.

Part and parcel of the freedoms and the society we enjoy today is the underpinning of the virtue of freedom of speech. And, along with that, comes the opportunity for some people to behave in an untidy way from time to time. But that does not mean that the state should step in and stop it.

Similarly, one of the great underpinnings of our society in the criminal law is that you should be convicted on the basis of beyond reasonable doubt. Why do we have that? Because in our system of law we believe that it is better that nine guilty people walk free rather than convicting one innocent person. We do protect those freedoms in our society. Indeed, those opposite could say, 'Why do you support a system of law that allows nine guilty people to walk free?' It is because we believe in the right of the innocent to be absolutely protected.

Similarly, with the freedom of speech, we do say in this debate that people should be able to have a robust discussion—that people should not be able to claim a victimhood-type status. The Australian people are robust; we are not snowflakes. But what we as a government firmly believe in is that nobody should be harassed or intimidated, and that is what those on the other side will never tell you about—that there is that protection against genuine harassment and against intimidation. Of course, we all believe that that should be the case.

When we have a law that seeks to bring an absolute world-class cartoonist, in Bill Leak, before the Human Rights Commission because somebody thought they might be offended by him, we know that the law is reaching too far. It is not often that the Australian people will hear me quote a Greens senator in support of that which I am putting forward. But let's be reminded that when this legislation first came in the then Greens senator from Western Australia Christabel Chamarette made some very prophetic comments about 'creating a crime of words':

This will take the legislation across a certain threshold into the realm of thought police …

Even Greens senator Christabel Chamarette saw the consequences of the legislation which has now played out, unfortunately, against the now-deceased—and may his soul rest in peace—Bill Leak and the four QUT students who were harassed in a most inappropriate manner.

And so we on this side believe that the QUT students and Bill Leak were in fact offended, insulted and humiliated by the actions of the Australian Human Rights Commission in its very inappropriate methodologies in pursuing those four students. This is about balancing up our fundamental right to freedom of speech and ensuring that people within our community are not harassed or intimidated.

So I feel exceptionally comfortable with the landing that the government has come to on this. It is a sensible compromise. It is a system which will ensure freedom of speech and, what is more, protection from those who would seek to harass and intimidate. The Australian people will be well served by this legislation. The Australian people will see this as a sensible balance, where freedom of speech is absolutely protected—as it ought to be.

About Eric

Eric Abetz has been a Liberal Senator for Tasmania since 1994 and has served in a range of Leadership, Ministerial and Shadow Ministerial roles.

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