Media release

Government right to reverse tide on bank account seizure

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“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

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All Australians need their privacy protected – not just journalists

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“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]

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Federal government must clarify freedom of speech proposals

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“The federal government must rule out further restrictions on freedom of speech,” says Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott yesterday delivered a national security update at the Australian Federal Police headquarters in Canberra. In the statement, the prime minister proposed “stronger prohibitions on vilifying, intimidating or inciting hatred.”

“The prime minister’s statement raises concerns about what this might mean for freedom of speech. If the proposal is to replicate section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 in the criminal law, these new laws could be used to send people to jail for expressing an opinion,” says Mr Breheny.

“We need freedom of speech to fight Islamist terror. Australians must be free to engage in a vital debate about the threats we face without laws restricting freedom of speech.”

“The federal government should be seeking to repeal laws that restrict free speech, such as section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975. Laws that restrict free speech send a signal that it is acceptable to silence anyone who disagrees with you. In the face of violence and threats of violence, the government must send a strong signal that it is never acceptable to shut down public debate,” says Mr Breheny.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 currently makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the grounds of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin.” This provision was used against News Corp Australia journalist Andrew Bolt for two articles he had published in 2009.

“These new laws proposed by the Prime Minister could be used to send Andrew Bolt, or anyone who said what Andrew Bolt said, to jail. That is completely unacceptable in a free society,” says Mr Breheny.

“The federal government should also support South Australian Family First Senator Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014. Senator Day’s private members’ bill seeks to amend section 18C by removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ from the law,” says Mr Breheny.

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

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New poll reveals Australians believe free speech under threat

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Australians believe that freedom of speech is the human right most under threat today in Australia, a new poll has found. Asked to choose which right they felt was most under threat, 39 per cent of Australians chose freedom of speech.

“With anti-free speech laws like section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act still in force, it is no surprise that Australians are worried about freedom of speech,” says James Paterson, Deputy Executive Director of the free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

“When Australians see journalists like Andrew Bolt hauled off to court for simply writing an article which offends someone, they are right to be concerned that their own free speech is under threat.

“This result demonstrates there is widespread community concern about freedom of speech in Australia. The federal government should reconsider its decision to abandon Tony Abbott’s pre-election promise to repeal section 18C,” says Mr Paterson.

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Bipartisan human rights report shows Abbott government must support free speech bill

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“There is no excuse for the Abbott government to not support the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014,” says Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Today the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights released a report stating that the Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 does “not raise human rights concerns”. The Parliamentary Joint Committee is a bipartisan parliamentary committee that reviews bills before the parliament in light of Australia’s human rights obligations.

The Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 was introduced by Family First Senator Bob Day on 25 September last year. The bill seeks to remove the words “offend” and “insult” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which currently makes it an offence to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person on the basis of their race, colour, or national or ethnic origin.”

“It is significant that the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights has made this decision in light of the fact that it is required to balance freedom of speech against discrimination law,” says Mr Breheny.

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Charlie Hebdo shows why section 18C must go

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“The Abbott government must repeal section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act in light of the recent attacks on Charlie Hebdo,” says Simon Breheny, Director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 (Cth) makes it unlawful to “offend, insult humiliate or intimidate” a person on the grounds of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”. Section 18C was the provision used against News Corp Australia journalist Andrew Bolt in 2011 for two columns he had published in 2009.

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New study finds 262 breaches of fundamental legal rights in federal laws

“The fundamental legal rights of all Australians are being systematically eroded under federal laws,” says Simon Breheny, Director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

A new IPA report entitled The state of fundamental legal rights in Australia: an audit of federal law, authored by Mr Breheny and IPA Researcher Morgan Begg, was featured in The Australian this morning. It has revealed that the legal rights of the presumption of innocence, natural justice, the right to silence and privilege against self incrimination are breached by 262 separate provisions in Acts of federal Parliament.

“This is a shockingly high number. The law exists to protect the individual liberties of Australians, not to violate them. If there was only one instance of these rights being breached it would be one instance too many, but there are 262,” says Mr Breheny.

“The presumption of innocence, natural justice, the right to silence and privilege against self incrimination are the backbone of hundreds of years of legal tradition. Without them, our legal system will not achieve just outcomes.”

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Senator Day’s bill an important step on the road to restoring free speech

“Family First Senator Bob Day’s Racial Discrimination Amendment Bill 2014 is an excellent step in the right direction to restore free speech,” said Simon Breheny, director of the Legal Rights Project at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Senator Day’s bill is being debated in the Senate this morning. The bill is co-sponsored by Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm and Liberal Senators Cory Bernardi and Dean Smith. The bill proposes to remove the terms “offend” and “insult” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975.

Section 18C currently makes it unlawful to “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the grounds of “race, colour or national or ethnic origin”. Section 18C was the law used against journalist Andrew Bolt in 2011.

“This bill removes the worst parts of section 18C – the terms that create the right not to be offended. Senator Day’s bill is an important step on the road to restoring freedom of speech,” said Mr Breheny.

“This reform will increase the threshold that complainants will have to meet to make out a successful claim under section 18C. It will also make it more difficult for judges in future cases brought under section 18C to rely on the precedent set in the Bolt case,” said Mr Breheny.

“This proposal to amend section 18C attracts support from commentators across the political spectrum. Former Prime Minister John Howard and former minister David Kemp have forcefully argued for the reform of section 18C. Prominent members of the political left are also in favour of the proposed change, including barrister Julian Burnside, human rights academic Sarah Joseph and journalists David Marr and Gay Alcorn,” said Mr Breheny.

Removing the words ‘offend’ and ‘insult’ is a policy position that almost everyone can agree on. All those who value freedom of speech should support Senator Day’s bill.”

This morning the IPA released a video on Senator Day’s bill, which you can watch here.

The IPA today also released a fact sheet explaining Senator Day’s bill, which is available to download here.

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

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Mandatory internet data retention treats all Australians like criminals: IPA

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“The federal government’s proposed mandatory data retention scheme will be repressive and expensive. It is a fundamental threat to all Australians’ privacy and online freedoms,” said Chris Berg, policy director of the free market think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs, this morning.

Media reports today confirm that the prime minister’s National Security Committee has approved a policy to require all internet service providers to retain ‘metadata’ on their customers’ online activities as part of the government’s anti-terror legislative reforms.

“Mandatory data retention treats all Australians as suspected criminals, storing away records of their internet activities just in case, in the future, they are accused of criminal activity.

“Far from a targeted anti-terrorism measure, data retained under the government’s policy will be available for any law enforcement agency pry into.

“Metadata is nothing less than a complete record of a person’s internet activities – and through that their personal and business life. Claims that ‘only’ metadata will be collected completely misunderstands the nature of digital communications,” said Mr Berg.

Last week the internet service provider iiNet pointed out the high cost of data retention for ISPs, costs which will have to be passed onto customers.

“The last few decades have shown us that after these sorts of policies are introduced they are incredibly hard to repeal”, said Mr Berg.

Mr Berg, along with the IPA’s Legal Rights Project director Simon Breheny, appeared in front of the Parliamentary Inquiry into National Security Reforms in September 2012 when mandatory data retention was first considered by the Gillard government.

For media and comment: Chris Berg, Director of Policy, 0402 257 681, [email protected]

UPDATE: Federal cabinet is set to consider the proposal at a meeting later today.

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Coalition’s cyber-bullying commissioner a threat to free speech

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“The Coalition government’s proposed Children’s eSafety Commissioner is a threat to freedom of speech and entirely counter to the government’s ‘Freedom Agenda’,” said Chris Berg, Policy Director at free market think tank the Institute of Public Affairs.

Mr Berg, along with IPA legal rights director Simon Breheny, is the author of a new report A Social Problem, not a Technological Problem: Bullying, Cyberbullying and Freedom of Speech, released today by the Institute of Public Affairs.

The Coalition’s proposed Children’s eSafety Commissioner will have the power to Continue Reading →

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