Opening statement: Racial vilification law in NSW inquiry

Today the IPA’s Simon Breheny testifies before the NSW parliament into racial vilification law. The parliament is considering whether their laws should be widened to capture more people.

Here’s Simon’s opening statement:

This inquiry into racial vilification law in New South Wales risks opening the door to changes that could have very serious consequences for freedom of speech.

The current criminal law in this area is based on physical harm. The concept is a simple one: threats of physical violence are unacceptable and should be outlawed.

The law as it stands is appropriate. However, it must not be expanded to catch any form of conduct less than specific threats of physical violence. To do so risks undermining one of our most important liberal democratic rights – freedom of speech.

Other submissions to this inquiry have recommended such regressive changes, which could make it possible for a person to be fined or imprisoned merely for expressing a certain opinion.

Lowering the bar to include, for instance, conduct that offends, insults or humiliates, would be a dangerous step in the wrong direction. Such restrictions on free speech are completely unacceptable.

This inquiry appears to be based on the idea that a criminal law that has not resulted in any convictions is not good law. In fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. The law is a success because it is being obeyed – no one is threatening physical harm towards others on the basis of their race. Surely we would prefer a legal system where no convictions are ever recorded. In this case, the provision should be seen as a successful law, not one that requires amendment.

If any change is to be recommended by this committee it should involve the repeal of s 20D of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 and a reversion to common law actions based on intimidation rather than race.

At the national level, the Gillard government has recently been forced to back down over two proposed pieces of legislation that would have restricted free speech – namely, the dangerous overhaul of anti-discrimination law and the introduction of a misconceived regulatory regime to oversee Australia’s news media. It is disappointing that a Coalition government in New South Wales is opening the door to further incursions on our human right to freedom of speech.



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