Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act has a ‘chilling effect on free speech’

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Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act has a ‘chilling effect on free speech’

The amendments approved last year to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 in the House of Assembly will likely come up for debate in early April in the Legislative Council. The changes already passed provide an additional exception from section 17(1) and 19 of the Act for those acting for a ‘religious’ purpose.

Section 17(1) allows complaints to be made to the Office of the Anti-Discrimination Commissioner relating to public acts deemed to ‘offend, ridicule, harass, insult or intimidate’ with regard to a range of attributes. Section 19 allows complaints for public acts which ‘incite hatred, severe contempt for or severe ridicule of’ with regard to race, disability, sexual orientation or religious belief. Currently those acting for a ‘research, scientific, artistic or academic purpose’ are excepted from both section 17(1) and section 19.

Archbishop Julian welcomes the intent behind the government’s changes to further protect religious freedom in Tasmania but leading to the debate in the upper house has again sought to clarify that the better way forward on this issue would be to repeal section 17(1) and remove any exceptions from section 19. His Grace explains, “The term ‘offend’ is too subjective in 17(1); what offends one reasonable person might be deemed to be appropriate and respectful by another reasonable person.”

“There is no clear objective standard as to what constitutes ‘offence’. As a result, the law as it stands has a chilling effect on free speech, with individuals afraid to speak publicly on matters for which they have deeply held beliefs. This part of the Act has placed an unreasonable burden on free speech and is stifling the kind of respectful public exchange of ideas necessary for healthy democratic society,” His Grace said.

“It is never acceptable to incite hatred or violence,” His Grace reiterated.

“If we are serious about stopping hate-speech we need to repeal all exceptions to section 19 of the Act. There is no good reason why people of religious faith should be excepted from hate speech, or indeed academics, artists, scientists or researchers.”

His Grace will appear before the Legislative Council this month to provide a briefing on this issue.