Governments proposal gives rise to free speech concerns

Multiple reports today reveal that proposed national security legislation has provoked fears from elements of the Liberal party that freedom of speech will be infringed.

Phillip Coorey in the Australian Financial Review:

[When] the Prime Minister unveiled a new national security pitch on Monday, he provoked fresh concern from his one-time libertarian support base when he flagged “stronger prohibitions on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred”.

John Roskam, the executive director of the libertarian think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, said he had been contacted by several like-minded Liberal MPs who believed this statement was a complete reversal from Mr Abbott’s previous promise to water-down section 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act, which makes it illegal to vilify people on the basis of race.

Mr Abbott dumped the pursuit of 18c last year, believing it would make the domestic fight against terrorism harder because it was alienating the Islamic communities that he wanted to be part of “team Australia”.

“You can’t 18 months ago try and repeal 18c and then 18 months later say we are going to toughen it up,” Mr Roskam said.

And Andrew Probyn in The West Australian:

Although the details remain sketchy, it has alarmed some Liberal MPs, several of whom remain angry that Mr Abbott last year abandoned plans to axe Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” someone on racial grounds.

One Liberal said he feared Mr Abbott intended to replicate Section 18C in criminal law. Institute of Public Affairs executive director John Roskam said some Liberal MPs contacted him yesterday expressing deep concern.

“It would be very worrying if the Government strengthened Section 18C and further restricted freedom of speech, especially since the Government had previously promised to repeal Section 18C,” he said.

Mr Coorey’s article can be accessed here, and Mr Probyn’s article can be accessed here.


“Those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear” argument shows how poorly defended our privacy rights are


The IPA’s Chris Berg today has an excellent opinion piece on ABC’s The Drum, regarding the governments proposed anti-terror laws. In particular, he criticised data retention plans, and comments from the Australian Federal Police Assistant Commissioner Tim Morris that “those with nothing to hide have nothing to fear”.

…  Morris’s statement is a worry. It lacks all sense of proportionality – essential when crafting security policy.

More importantly, it shows how poorly defended our privacy rights are. Are we really at the stage where we even have to justify the very existence of private spaces – spaces where we are hidden from the all-seeing state?

It is true that the value of privacy is conceptually difficult. We’re constantly trading away privacy for other goals.

Whenever we provide our details to someone at a call centre, share secrets with friends, interact with governments, even simply go outside, we’re in some small way relinquishing control over our own personal information; allowing others to see or know details about ourselves that might otherwise be secured.

It’s particularly difficult today, when we have more opportunities than ever to share information – and the authorities have more capacity than ever to obtain information about us without our consent.

So many people dismiss privacy as a sort of anachronism: either a lost cause or something that only a recluse would care about. Privacy is dead. You’ve heard this before.

But I’ll bet even AFP assistant commissioners secure their internet banking passwords and close their blinds at night.

Mr Berg also defended the concept of privacy, and it’s importance to personal liberty. The full article is certainly worth a read.


Roskam: prospect of new speech laws “very alarming”

The IPA’s John Roskam provided comments to ABC News online earlier today, regarding the federal governments plan to introduce new anti-terror laws. In particular, Mr Roskam responded to plans to introduce “stronger prohibitions on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred.”

The Prime Minister’s statement that the Government will pursue tougher laws around vilification and inciting hatred has triggered concern about the consequences for freedom of speech.

Conservative think tank the Institute of Public Affairs said it flies in the face of Mr Abbott’s now abandoned plan to repeal parts of the nation’s racial discrimination laws.

“There is the potential from the comments today that not only will we have less freedom of speech, but we’ll have restrictions on what all of us can say and that is very alarming,” [Executive Director] John Roskam said.

Mr Roskam said the Prime Minister must spell out exactly what he is planning.

“There are already strong prohibitions on intimidation, threats of violence and so on, racial hatred is a vague and ambiguous term and if we are going to give government powers of this sort we have to understand exactly what we are going to prohibit,” he said.

The earlier plan to rewrite the Racial Discrimination Act also prompted passionate debate on the Liberal Party backbench, with some MPs vowing to cross the floor in any push for the repeal of the laws.

Read the whole article here.


Deep lack of fundamental constitutional awareness revealed: Ipsos MORI poll


An Ipsos MORI poll released over the weekend showed a number of revealing figures. As the IPA’s James Paterson noted here yesterday, 39% of Australians aged 16-64 years believe that the right most under threat in Australia is the right to free speech. This was the most popular response to that question, which should highlight the importance of repealing speech-infringing laws such as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Other results from the survey are not as optimistic. Question one of the survey listed a number of different historical documents, and asked respondents to indicate which they had heard of before taking part in the survey. According to the results, 65% of respondents had heard of the Australian Constitution, 53% had heard of Magna Carta, and only a slim 14% had heard of the Statute of Westminster (1931). When one remembers that the threshold was merely having heard of these documents, it is a very disappointing result, and a damning indictment on the education system in this country.

The Australian Constitution, passed in 1900, provided for the federation of the British colonies on the Australian continent to form a unified nation. Indeed, Australia would not exist, but for the Constitution. The Statute of Westminster (1931), which Australia signed in 1942, provided that the British parliament could no longer pass laws which would bind Australia. Its effect was to make Australia a sovereign nation. That only 65% and 14% are aware of these documents is disturbing.

Finally, the signing of the Magna Carta in 1215 is a fundamentally important historical event which established (or re-established) the rule of law in mediaeval England. Its principles, such as the freedom from arbitrary arrest and to be governed by the law of the land (or the common law), permeate our modern democracy. A lack of awareness of these principles, and where they come from, makes it easier for those in power to dishonour them.

See the poll results from Australia, and other countries, here.


Anti-smoking bureaucracy embroiled in another scandal

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Healthway, the Western Australian anti-tobacco government body, has found itself in the news again for all the wrong reasons. In October of last year, it was revealed that that as a result of its sponsorship deal with Western Australia Opera, a performance of Carmen was to be cancelled because it was too unsavoury for audiences to see. Not for the murder, or even the bull-fighting, but because an unavoidable aspect of the story involves smoking.

At the time, the IPA’s Simon Breheny, called it a horrible intersection of the nanny state and freedom of speech, and the IPA’s Chris Berg noted it revealed the workings of the nanny state advocates.

It’s a very, very revealing illustration of their censorious nature: the idea that they cannot tolerate artistic expression that is contradictory to their political message… That is a very powerful reflection on them.

Now, it has been revealed that in addition to being tools for censorship, Healthway has diversified into the realm of corruption. A report released yesterday by the Western Australian Public Sector Commission found the upper echelon of Healthway has been misusing sponsorship contracts and “derived a private benefit in the form of tickets or seats for their family in corporate boxes” to the value of $220 000. The report politely called these arrangements “excessive and inconsistent with the obligation to be scrupulous in the use of public resources”.

However, it would be more appropriate to say that a public body conducting these arrangements in the manner described, is grossly improper. Generally speaking, it highlights just how inappropriate it is to task almost unaccountable bodies such as Healthway with dispensing large amounts of taxpayer money.

After the Carmen episode, FreedomWatch lamented that perhaps the Barnett government missed a perfect opportunity to abolish an unnecessary public agency. The same government should now take advantage of this same opportunity.



Senator Day’s bill a step in the right direction


The IPA’s Simon Breheny has been featured in today’s The Australian, on the topic of Senator Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014.

“Section 18C is a significant restriction on freedom of speech,” Mr Breheny said.

“Senator Day’s bill is an important step towards the restoration of free speech. It seeks to repeal the very worst parts of section 18C.

“Only a full repeal of the provision will restore freedom of speech but everyone who values free speech must support Bob Day’s bill.

“Making it unlawful to offend or insult a person equates to a ‘hurt feelings’ test. The removal of these words is a very modest proposal,” Mr Breheny said.

Continue Reading →


WATCH: Chris Berg criticises data retention on The Drum

The IPA’s Chris Berg joined Wednesday nights episode of ABC’s The Drum, to discuss mandatory data retention, broadening the base of the GST, food labelling and the ‘Freedom Rides’.

Watch the segment here, as Mr Berg slams the cost, usefulness boundaries of the governments proposed mandatory data retention scheme.

And here is a transcript of the same segment.

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Tim Wilson at the National Press Club

After his first year in the position, Human Rights Commissioner Tim Wilson today addressed the National Press Club. Among other issues, he detailed the nature of liberty, the importance of the Magna Carta, property rights, religious freedom, censorship and section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

It is comforting that there is at least one supporter of freedom in the Human Rights Commission.

UPDATE: Mr Wilson’s address can be viewed at the following link.

The transcript is reproduced below, from the Australian Human Rights Commission website.

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Maribyrnong council orders business to remove political banner


The Herald Sun reported last week that a Melbourne council has ordered a shop-owner to remove a political banner from the side of his store. This was done because the proprietor had not obtained the proper permissions for displaying a sign.

The owner, Andrew Dannaoui, hung the sign showing the faces of three councillors who voted in favour of installing parking meters in the area. He argued that “given it is on private property they are stifling freedom of speech.” In response, Maribyrnong City Council chief executive Stephen Wall said the removal was the result of Mr Dannaoui not obtaining the proper permits to hang the banner.

There is undoubtedly a stifling of free speech in this instance – Mr Dannaoui had a political opinion which he wished to express. What makes this more repugnant still is the fact that this occurred on the private property.

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