Media release

Free speech under attack in Tasmania


Freedom of speech is under attack after the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commissioner’s decision to hear the case against Archbishop Porteous.

Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Commission has decided the Catholic Church has a case to answer in response to a complaint made by Greens candidate Martine Delaney this year. Delaney complains that a booklet outlining Catholic teachings on marriage, which was distributed to parents of Catholic high school students throughout Australia, is offensive and therefore breaches Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws.

“The complaint against Archbishop Porteous ought to have been dismissed,” says Simon Breheny, Director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“The booklet produced by the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference carefully outlines the Catholic position on marriage. The booklet was distributed to parents of students at Catholic schools. The booklet is a reasonable statement of Catholic teaching couched in a measured tone.”

“If the Catholic Church cannot distribute a booklet on Catholic teaching to Catholics, who can it distribute them to?”

“This case highlights the attack on free speech represented by anti-discrimination law. It should never be a crime to offend a person.”

“The position outlined by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference is the position that had been taken by every leader of the two major political parties right up until last year – and it is now potentially illegal,” says Mr Breheny.

The decision not to dismiss the complaint is relevant in the context of the upcoming plebiscite on the redefinition of marriage.

“The legitimacy of the result in the upcoming plebiscite depends upon the existence of a free and open debate. Both sides must have the opportunity to present a case to the Australian people,” says Mr Breheny.

“This is why both supporters and opponents of same sex marriage ought to be concerned about the complaint against the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference,” says Mr Breheny.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected] or 0400 967 382.


Free speech bill an opportunity for the Turnbull government


Senator Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 is a significant opportunity for the Turnbull government to demonstrate its commitment to freedom of speech, according to free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

The Senate will debate Family First Senator for South Australia Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 today. The bill proposes to remove the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which currently makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the basis of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

“The Day amendment allows the Turnbull government to show where it stands on freedom of speech,” says Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has promised to lead a ‘thoroughly liberal government committed to freedom, the individual and the market’. A sure way to prove this would be by supporting a bill that helps to restore free speech in Australia.”

“It should not be unlawful to offend or insult someone. Freedom of speech goes to the heart of liberal democracy.”

“Senator Day’s bill is not a full repeal of section 18C. Removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ does not fully restore freedom of speech in Australia. But the bill is a significant improvement.

“Supporting this bill would send a positive message about the direction of the Turnbull government,” says Mr Breheny.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected] or 0400 967 382.


Tasmanian anti-discrimination case shows freedom of speech is under attack


“An anti-discrimination complaint against the Catholic Archbishop of Hobart shows that freedom of speech is under attack,” says Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Martine Delaney, Greens candidate for the federal seat of Franklin, has complained to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission this week that pamphlets produced by Catholic Archbishop of Hobart Julian Porteous are offensive and breach the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (Tas). Following amendments passed in 2013, the act makes it a crime for a person to “engage in any conduct which offends, humiliates, intimidates, insults or ridicules another person” on the basis of a range of attributes, including sexual orientation.

If Archbishop Porteous is found by the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission to have breached the act, he may be ordered to apologise, to pay a $3080 fine or to pay compensation to the complainant.

“This attack on free speech is facilitated by Tasmania’s anti-discrimination laws, which are the most restrictive in the country,” says Mr Breheny.

“As I argued in an article for the Sunday Tasmanian in November 2012, the 2013 amendments would have ‘a crippling effect’ on freedom of expression and stifle public debate.”

“This confirms our worst fears about the law, and shows why the act should never have been amended.”

“Even if the complaint is rejected by the commission, the fact that the legislation contemplates such a complaint on a topic of genuine and significant public and political debate shows the overreach of the Tasmanian regime.”

This complaint is a clear example of the chilling effect that legislation can have on speech,” says Mr Breheny.

Simon Breheny’s article in the Sunday Tasmanian can be read here.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, Institute of Public Affairs, [email protected] or 0400 967 382.


IPA welcomes government scrapping bank deposit tax


The Abbott government’s announcement to scrap plans for a tax on bank deposits of up to $250,000 is welcomed by free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“It is pleasing that the Abbott government has come to its senses on the bank deposit tax, providing welcome relief for Australian savers in an uncertain financial environment,” says Dr Mikayla Novak, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“The 0.05 per cent tax on bank deposits, estimated to raise $1.5 billion over the budget forward estimates, was unwarranted given the relative strength of the Australian financial sector.”

“In the current climate of ultra-low interest rates the imposition of the tax would have hurt ordinary Mum-and-Dad bank deposit holders, and would have taken us back to the pre-GST era of inefficient financial transaction taxes,” says Dr Novak.

Continue Reading →


Summit shows reform consensus does not exist


“Today’s National Reform Summit has failed to agree to a meaningful reform agenda,” says James Paterson, Deputy Executive Director of the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs. Mr Paterson participated in the Summit in Sydney today.

The Australian and the Australian Financial Review are to be commended for their attempt to forge a consensus reform agenda. Regrettably, key summit participants vetoed crucial aspects of any holistic reform program that could boost our prosperity,” says Mr Paterson.

“Critical areas of national reform were declared no-go areas. Workplace relations reform, essential to improving Australia’s slipping productivity, was barely discussed. In the statement, the words ‘award’, ‘penalty rates’, ‘unfair dismissal’ and ‘Fair Work Commission’ were not even mentioned.”

Continue Reading →


OECD call to tax coal makes no sense


The OECD’s call to increase taxes on coal is a deeply disappointing development from what is supposed to be the world’s leading economic organisation, according to free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

In two reports released in the last fortnight, the OECD has suggested increasing taxes on property, car use, electricity generation, depreciating assets, diesel and particularly coal, in order to discourage growth in carbon dioxide emissions.

“Coal is the world’s leading source of electricity and an indispensable component in the making of steel,” says Brett Hogan, Director of Energy and Innovation Policy at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“It makes no sense for the world’s leading economic organisation to be calling for increased taxes that make it more expensive for the developed and developing world to participate in a modern, global economy.” Continue Reading →


Pope Francis’ climate change encyclical not binding on Catholics


Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change should not be treated as official Catholic doctrine binding on all Catholics, but rather a personal position of the Pope, according to Father James Grant, Adjunct Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

“Many will see the Pope’s encyclical as the official position of the Church on the area of climate change. This is simply not the case,” says Father James.

“An encyclical is meant to provide spiritual guidance from the Pope on a particular subject, for bishops to then discuss with their faithful. In Catholic doctrine, it is completely acceptable for Catholics to disagree with the opinions of the Pope in an encyclical.”

“So while the encyclical will hold significant weight in the Catholic community, there is nothing new in the debate regarding encyclicals. Catholics can feel safe in being sceptical about the Pope’s opinions,” says Father James.

“While it is reasonable for the Pope to use his moral authority on issues such as the Trinity or the nature of God, it is altogether different if a Catholic disagrees with a Pope on his environmental views.”

A draft of the encyclical appeared on Monday night. In it, Pope Francis expresses his concerns about climate change, and of the “urgent and compelling” need to reduce carbon emissions.

“Climate change is a scientific debate. It is entirely legitimate for people of faith to disagree on the science of climate change and what, if anything, should be done about it,” says Father James.

For media and comment: Father James Grant, Adjunct Fellow, Institute of Public Affairs, on [email protected] or 0425 721 962.

Father James Grant is a Catholic Priest and founder of Chaplains Without Borders, and Catholics in Business. He is the author of Resurgence: Revitalising Western Catholicism, has founded two schools in India, and has been a Priest for more than 30 years.


ICAC should be abolished


The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) should be abolished, according to Simon Breheny, Director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

In an opinion article in today’s edition of The Australian, Mr Breheny calls for ICAC to be abolished after the body demanded even more coercive powers, calling ICAC “Australia’s biggest kangaroo court.”

Last week, the High Court of Australia found that ICAC lacked the power to investigate Margaret Cunneen, the Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor, for allegedly counselling another person on how to avoid taking a breath test.

In response, ICAC has called on the Baird government for an extension of its powers.

“This is a ridiculous campaign by ICAC, and Premier Baird should ignore it,” says Mr Breheny.

“ICAC’s powers already breach some of our most fundamental legal rights. For example, it can force witnesses to answer questions, removing the right to silence. Expanding its powers is turning away from 800 years of common law.”

“If ICAC cannot catch people while adhering to the law, then the problem is not the law – the problem is ICAC.”

“ICAC’s demand for more power is desperate and illegitimate. ICAC should be abolished and investigation of corrupt conduct should be investigated by the police and prosecuted in criminal courts,” says Mr Breheny.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, [email protected] or 0400 967 382


Government right to reverse tide on bank account seizure


“The Abbott government should be congratulated for reversing the Gillard government’s cash grab on Australian bank account holders,” says Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Assistant Treasurer Josh Frydenberg is set to announce the Abbott government will introduce legislation to reverse the Gillard government’s changes to the Banking Act 1959.

The Gillard government amended the Banking Act 1959 to lower the threshold for ‘unclaimed moneys’, which are transferred from banks that hold the accounts to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, from seven years of inactivity to just three. The government is set to restore the original seven year threshold. The government is also removing the seizure requirement altogether for bank accounts held in the name of a minor.

“This reform is important because it will allow parents to set aside money for their children over the long term without the fear that government might take it away from them,” says Mr Breheny.

“The new rules will remove the disincentive to save that the previous government’s changes put in place. People should be confident that money they have saved in their own bank accounts is there whenever they need it – no matter how long it has been left ‘inactive’.

“In February 2013, the IPA described the bank account seizures policy as an attack on property rights. We called on the Coalition to repeal these laws, and we are pleased to see they have now done so,” says Mr Breheny.

For media and comment: Simon Breheny, Director, Legal Rights Project, [email protected] or 0400 967 382


All Australians need their privacy protected – not just journalists


“Protections for journalists in the amended data retention bill need to be extended to all Australians,” says Chris Berg, Senior Fellow at the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

The government is reported to be amending the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Bill 2014 to require law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants if they want to access communications data in the hunt for a journalist’s source.

The Abbott government has said it would like parliament to pass the data retention bill by the end of the week.

“This amendment for journalists gives the game away. The data retention bill is an unacceptable violation of the right to privacy and will have a chilling effect on freedom of speech,” says Mr Berg.

“Journalists are not a special class that deserve unique privileges. Many other professions value the confidentiality that they have with clients – for instance, lawyers and doctors.”

“But more importantly we all have a basic need for privacy. Requiring law enforcement officials to get a warrant in order to violate that privacy is a reasonable constraint on the power of the state. Regardless of whether we are journalists or not,” says Mr Berg.

In his submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, Mr Berg argued that data retention was not a targeted national security policy. Instead, it was highly likely to be abused by economic regulators, a substantial regulatory burden on business, and unlikely to be an effective law enforcement tool.

“Ideally, parliament should reject the data retention bill, but if not, it should extend the same privileges granted to journalists to all Australians,” says Mr Berg.

Mr Berg’s submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is here

For media and comment: Chris Berg, Senior Fellow, 0402 257 681 or [email protected]