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Why we are worried about anti-discrimination law changes

On Tuesday the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon, released the draft legislation which consolidates federal anti-discrimination legislation into one piece of legislation, the Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012. The draft bill and explanatory notes are available on the Attorney-General’s Department website.

The IPA is very concerned that this legislation breaches fundamental freedoms. On Tuesday we issued a media release outlining our concerns about the reversal of the onus of proof contained in the bill. You can read that media release here.

Yesterday we discovered another aspect of the bill which is even more concerning. The draft legislation also significantly expands the grounds on which individuals can claim to be discriminated against. For the first time ever, discrimination on the basis of “political opinions” will be unlawful. You can see the expanded list of grounds for discrimination in Section 17 of the bill here.

Further, the bill defines discrimination to be any “conduct that offends, insults or intimidates” another person (see Section 19 here). That means that expressing an opinion that offends someone else’s political opinions is now grounds for discrimination if it occurs in certain contexts, such as in the workplace.

This is a potentially extremely serious curtailment of freedom of speech.

It is easily foreseeable that as a result of these proposed laws, individuals or their employers will be taken to court simply because they expressed a political opinion in the workplace that someone else does not like. Clearly, this is an extraordinary limitation on free speech. It’s also likely to lead to a much more litigious environment in the workplace, as aggrieved employees are encouraged to take legal action to resolve their disagreements.

The IPA believes these changes should be rejected by the parliament.

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