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Dreyfus misleads on free speech

Mark Dreyfus gave a breathtakingly misleading interview on ABC’s 7.30 last night:

LEIGH SALES: Mark Dreyfus, why should it be illegal to insult or offend somebody?

MARK DREYFUS: It’s not as you’ve just suggested illegal and it’s not going to be illegal to insult or offend someone. There’s been a great deal of misinformation put out about this consolidation, because that’s what it is, of five existing Acts that together form the body of anti discrimination law in Australia.

LEIGH SALES: But section 19 of that proposal clearly spells out the discrimination can include conduct that offends, insults or intimidates.

MARK DREYFUS: And what that is is giving effect to a whole body of case law. We’re not just legislating for the first time here in this area. This is law that’s been built up, developed, well worked through by the Australian community over several decades and those words that you’ve referred to are not intended to be stand alone.

They’re intended to show that in some circumstances, particularly in workplaces, repeated verbal abuse, repeated giving of verbal offence where day after day say a woman, because this is part of the legislation is to protect against discrimination against women, particularly in workplaces. You might have a woman who has a superior who says to her day after day after day “You’re useless, you’re just a woman, what would you know.” Now in those circumstances that would be unlawful. It’s unlawful now. And all that’s intended here is to make clear what the law already is.

Well let’s go to the law. Sales is exactly right. Clause 19 defines discrimination to be:

(1) A person (the first person) discriminates against another person if  the first person treats, or proposes to treat, the other person unfavourably because the other person has a particular protected attribute, or a particular combination of 2 or more protected  attributes.

(2) To avoid doubt, unfavourable treatment of the other person includes (but is not limited to) the following:
(a) harassing the other person;
(b) other conduct that offends, insults or intimidates the other person.

As our submission to the Senate Inquiry points out, this is a radical new definition of discrimination which will restrict free speech. It would in effect create a right not to be offended. Dreyfus either doesn’t understand the law, or is being deliberately deceptive in an effort to salvage a botched project which has been criticised from across the ideological spectrum.

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