Mark Steyn law repealed in Canada

Great news in the battle for free speech from Canada – section 13 of their Human Rights Act, used most famously against Mark Steyn, has been repealed:

A contentious section of Canadian human rights law, long criticized by free-speech advocates as overly restrictive and tantamount to censorship, is gone for good.

A private member’s bill repealing Section 13 of the Canadian Human Rights Act, the so-called “hate speech provision,” passed in the Senate this week. Its passage means the part of Canadian human rights law that permitted rights complaints to the federal Human Rights Commission for “the communication of hate messages by telephone or on the Internet” will soon be history.

As I wrote in the May edition of the IPA Review, this has been a very long battle:426146_10150836565398858_559808559_n

But despite the election of the Conservative government of Stephen Harper in 2006, it was not until 2012 that a bill to fix the law was introduced. Even then, it was not part of the government’s official legislative agenda, but rather the pet-project of a Conservative backbencher. Eventually, with the support of the government, the repeal of section 13 passed Canada’s House of Commons in June 2012.

Whilst this repeal is very welcome, it should not have taken a conservative government seven years to finally repeal a shocking anti-free speech law. Apathy within the government and some opposition in the Senate was enough to seriously delay this very important reform.

This experience has many lessons for Australia. Canada’s section 13 is just as bad as our very own section 18c:

Section 18c, the law used against Andrew Bolt, was an amendment to the Racial Discrimination Act moved by the Keating government in 1995. At the time it was opposed by the Liberal and National parties. Yet upon their election to government in 1996 they did nothing to rectify the law. The 2011 case against Bolt has served as a catalyst for public concern in much the same way the cases against Steyn and Levant did in Canada. Encouragingly, opposition leader Tony Abbott has promised that if elected, his government will repeal section 18c to ensure that no one is hauled before the courts again for simply expressing an opinion.

It remains to be seen, however, how much of a priority this will be for an incoming Abbott government, or what it will do if the repeal is blocked by the Senate.

Tony Abbott must move more quickly to end our Andrew Bolt law than Canada did to remove their Mark Steyn law.

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Referendum bill passes Senate 46-8

The bill to allow the local government referendum has tonight passed the Senate 46 votes to 8.

The eight Senators to vote against the bill, despite official support from both major parties, were:

  • Cory Bernardi, Liberal, SA
  • Dean Smith, Liberal, WA
  • Bridget McKenzie, National, VIC
  • Alan Eggleston, Liberal, WA
  • David Bushby, Liberal, TAS
  • Chris Back, Liberal, WA
  • David Fawcett, Liberal, SA
  • John Madigan, DLP, VIC

In addition, a number of Liberal frontbenchers abstained from the vote, including Eric Abetz, Mitch Fifield, Scott Ryan, Mathias Cormann, Michaelia Cash, Brett Mason, Stephen Parry and Richard Colbeck, along with backbencher Bill Heffernan.

This extraordinary show of disapproval from Coalition Senators is yet another piece of evidence of significant opposition within the Coalition to the federal takeover of local councils.

UPDATE: Further abstentions include Michael Ronaldson, David Johnson, Concetta Fierravanti-Wells, Sean Edwards and Helen Kroger.

That means just seven Liberals and four Nationals voted in favour of the bill. The full vote is available here.

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Cory Bernardi says ‘Vote No’

This great short video from South Australian Senator Cory Bernardi explains exactly why the local government referendum should be rejected:

Senator Bernardi is another Liberal speaking out against the referendum despite the Coalition’s official position to support the change to the constitution. The fact that so many Liberals are doing so this close to a federal election demonstrates the depth of concern in the parliamentary party about their official position.

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Dean Smith slams local government referendum

Watch this terrific speech from Western Australian Senator Dean Smith today on why the local government referendum is so dangerous and must be rejected:

Many of Senator Smith’s colleagues share his views – but not all of them have said so publicly, because the Coalition has officially resolved to support the referendum. Full credit to Senator Smith for having the courage of his convictions.

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Abetz on equal funding for the local government referendum

This is encouraging. Liberal Senate Leader Eric Abetz demands equal funding for both sides in the local government referendum in a speech in the Senate this afternoon:

This follows Opposition Leader Tony Abbott’s letter to Julia Gillard demanding equal funding, revealed exclusively on FreedomWatch this morning.

Of course, the IPA would much prefer that the Coalition opposed the referendum entirely. But it is welcome that they are fighting to ensure the referendum is conducted on an equal footing.

If the Gillard government persists with the unequal funding, the Coalition should oppose the referendum as a matter of principle. A change to the constitution should not be rammed through in an illegitimate process.

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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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Young Labor slams Conroy’s “reforms”

Full credit to the federal president of Young Labor who had this important article ($) in The Australian today on why the ALP should defend free speech, not attack it:

In his crusade to ensure government regulation and oversight of media content, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy is pursuing a regulatory act that would breach fundamentally the liberal ideal of a free press.

Conroy has put freedom of speech and the independence of the press as an election issue, which the Coalition can seek to capitalise on in September if the ALP does not reverse its position on this more draconian element of the reform package. For the many members of the Labor Party at a youth level who are strong advocates of civil liberties, the abridgment of these freedoms should never be an election issue but protected by Labor governments.

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Janet Albrechtsen on media regulation

A fantastic column in The Australian today from Janet Albrechtsen on the left’s hostility to free speech:

INADVERTENTLY, Stephen Conroy has done us a favour. His arrogant attempt to regulate the content of newspapers reminds us that free speech and a free press can never be taken for granted. He has also reminded us how the Left will use nice-sounding language to hide a radical agenda.

His Public Interest Media Advocate is code for a government-appointed bureaucrat empowered to impose a political interest test when regulating the content of newspapers.

The Minister for Communications has also usefully debunked the claim that there is no longer a Left and Right in this country. Remember the mantra of many on the Left not so long ago that such distinctions were meaningless. While correct on some fronts, it’s wrong on the freedom front. While not every member of the Left supports Conroy’s attempt to muzzle the media, the silence of so many within Labor is telling. This dark episode is a stellar lesson of the Left’s illiberal DNA.

Thanks are also due to Nicola Roxon as she takes her leave from the federal parliament.

Her equally misguided attempt to set boundaries around speech pursuant to her Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill is another example of what many members of the Left will do if given the chance.

The article is sadly behind The Australian‘s paywall here – and shows exactly why you should subscribe!

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Media release: Gillard backdown on anti-discrimination laws a victory for free speech

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The Institute of Public Affairs, the organisation that led the public campaign against the Gillard government’s proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws, said today that the decision to withdraw the legislation was a victory for freedom of speech in Australia.

The Australian newspaper is this morning reporting that the government will not be proceeding with the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus confirmed the backdown last night.

“This is a huge win for freedom of speech” said Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at the IPA.

“The idea that the Gillard government would try to make it against the law to offend someone because of their political opinion was outrageous.

“Once the Australian people understood what was at stake it became clear that the community would not tolerate this sort of attack on the fundamental principle of freedom of speech.

“The outrageous threat to freedom of speech was just one of many problems contained in the draft bill.

“Other fundamental problems included reversing the burden of proof for cases of alleged discrimination and an entire regime designed to make it easier for complainants to sue.

“The IPA has always argued the draft bill could not be cured with amendments. The government’s decision to withdraw the bill is an admission we were right,” said Mr Breheny.

The IPA was the first organisation to raise concerns about the freedom of speech implications of the proposed laws. “Proposed Law A Further Attack on Free Speech” by Simon Breheny was published in The Australian on 23 November 2012, the same week the draft laws were released.

 

For media and comment:

Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, 0400 967 382

Chris Berg, Director, Policy, 0402 257 681

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