Remove all Australian laws prohibiting free speech

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There are currently 2 threats to freedom of speech in Australia – defamation laws and hate speech laws (maybe there’s more – PLEASE leave them in the comments below).

Both run into conflict with article 19 of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, which declares that “everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression… to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers”. Essentially, opinions should be able to be expressed, no matter what those opinions are or what means they are expressed through.

Now let’s look at section 18C of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. It states that

“(1) It is unlawful for a person to do an act, otherwise than in private, if:

(a) the act is reasonably likely, in all the circumstances, to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or a group of people; and

(b) the act is done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the other person or of some or all of the people in the group.”

The specific issue with this section is the inclusion of “offend, insult, humiliate” – speech is counted within these criteria. The problem isn’t the content of any speech violating this law, it’s the fact that speech in of itself is inherently subjective. It’s that in order even think you need to risk being offensive. Expression should not be judged on its ability to offend, as if no one ever risked offending anyone there would literally never be societal progress.

That’s not saying that there isn’t genuine bigotry in Australia – there surely is – but making it illegal doesn’t change people’s views. Driving hatred underground means that those views fester, they aren’t allowed to be expressed and so they can’t be changed out of the response of others to them. In many ways you don’t even know what you should think until you watch how people respond – which is why the most horrific of views should be allowed to be shared with full legal protection.

Defamation laws in Australia also prohibit free speech, allowing for simply the threat of a lawsuit to deter expression of opinion, even if that opinion isn’t defamatory. Defamation laws in Australia protect the reputations of public figures from unverified damaging claims. But it’s not even about whether what someone writes in a newspaper is untruthful up or not – it’s the principle. Anyone should be able to express their views, “truthful” or not, as who gets to decide what truthful even means?

Now you might say that practically, these laws don’t stop speech at all – surely large media corporations have the resources to take on a defamation lawsuit. But not all media publishers are large, and in an age of social media a small publisher literally means you and a Facebook account.

So sign this petition if you believe that we should remove all Australian laws prohibiting free speech – because speech should never be defined by its ability to offend or defame.

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