Dreyfus challenged on free speech

This morning new Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus was interviewed on ABC 774 Melbourne by host Jon Faine. Here is a transcript of their discussion on free speech:

JON FAINE:  Mr Dreyfus, good morning to you. Congratulations.

MARK DREYFUS:  Good to be with you, John.

JON FAINE:  Free speech is one of the first issues you’re going to have to deal with. Did Nicola Roxon make a mess of the free speech reforms?

MARK DREYFUS:  Not at all. She’s put out a consultation draft and I think that’s really important to keep that up front. We put together, John, the five acts that together make up our anti-discrimination law and they’ve been built up over some four decades. You get a number of inconsistencies when you’ve got different acts, legislated at different times and I think it’s a worthwhile aim to try and put them together in a simpler form. That’s the purpose of it.

JON FAINE:  Yes but it’s triggered a massive campaign by media organisations and for instance, the IPA, already claiming a victory, saying Nicola Roxon’s departure is a win for the IPA.

MARK DREYFUS:  [Laughs] Well I suppose they like to make themselves as important as they possibly can. But they need to understand…

JON FAINE:  [Interrupts] But they’re right. They’ve been campaigning over this and it looks like – well are you going to change the draft?

MARK DREYFUS:  We – I’m going to be considering all of the submissions that have been made. I’m going to be considering the work of the Senate Committee, which is still deliberating. In fact the secretary of the Attorney-General’s department is going to talk to the committee today and put before the Senate Committee looking at this consultation draft of a bill – to make some suggestions about… [indistinct]

JON FAINE:  [Talks over]Okay. What’s your view? Should it be against the law to insult someone?

MARK DREYFUS:  I’m going – my view is that it’s very, very important that we strike the appropriate balance between protecting the Australian community and preserving free speech. And I don’t think anyone could doubt my commitment to free speech over very, very many years. I’ve participated in some of the landmark free speech cases in this country. And I…

JON FAINE:  [Interrupts] So what do you want the law to reflect?

MARK DREYFUS:  I want there to be a continuation of the protections that have been built up over the last four decades and very useful ones that they are. Protections for the Australian community against unfair discrimination… [indistinct]

JON FAINE:  [Talks over] Okay. But you didn’t answer my question. Should it be against the law to insult someone?

MARK DREYFUS:  The – not just in private space of course and not in ordinary conversation which is some of the more ridiculous suggestions that have been put forward. We’re not talking about conversations down the pub here. What we’re talking about is in the workplace, in particular situations that there ought not be unfair discrimination and that’s the purpose of anti-discrimination law at the moment.

JON FAINE:  Were you happy with the result or sorry, not happy with – did you think the outcome of Andrew Bolt’s case was correct? Are you satisfied that that’s how the law should work?

MARK DREYFUS:  Those are the hate speech provisions of the Racial Discrimination Act. They’ve been part of the law since 1994. They provide an incredibly important protection for the Australian community, most notably they’ve been used against people that have tried to say that the Holocaust did not happen. They’ve tried to say to people who got tattoos on their arms who are survivors of the Holocaust that they’re making up stories. That gives grave offence to not just the Jewish community but to all right-thinking members of the Australian community. Those are the hate speech provisions that I think are a very important protection for Australians.

JON FAINE:  Do they need to be in some way tweaked or fine-tuned?

MARK DREYFUS:  I don’t believe so. I think that one could look at some procedural issues about why some of those cases take so long to resolve. But apart from that, they’re a very important protection for the Australian community and they contain within them defences based on free speech. And those defences are – protect political comment, protect theatrical work, protect public comment – and strike in my view, the right balance.

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