Wednesday, March 22, 2017

AUS : Scrap Anti-Discrimination Act amendments: Archbishop Porteous

Archbishop Julian Porteous"Difficulties" may arise if proposed amendments to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 are passed, writes Hobart Archbishop Julian Porteous in The Mercury.

The Legislative Council will soon consider the issue of whether to endorse the amendments to the Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, which were passed last year by the House of Assembly.

The government undertook these changes in order to achieve a better balance between protecting Tasmanians from discrimination but also protecting their right to respectful free speech. 

The government was particularly concerned about the way in which section 17(1) of the Act, which allows complaints to be made with regard to public acts felt to “offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule” could be used to unjustly limit the freedom of speech and expression.

Rather than seek to repeal this section it decided to provide an exception to it for those acting for a “religious” purpose. 

Section 55 of the Act already provided exceptions for those acting for an academic, artistic, scientific and research purpose, so it was seeking to add to this list.

Two key difficulties have been identified with this change. First, the section 55 exceptions apply not only to section 17(1) but to section 19 of the Act, the latter of which concerns “hate speech”. 

This means the amendment passed in the Lower House would provide a religious exception from hate speech. Second, while the religious purpose exception would provide protection for those expressing a religious position, no further protection is offered for those simply expressing a deeply held belief in a respectful way.

I would like to first recognise the work of the government to try and achieve a better balance in the law between preventing unjust discrimination and protecting freedom of respectful speech. But there is a better way to achieve this balance.

The proposal I have outlined will strengthen the prohibition against “hate speech” while at the same time strengthening protections for respectful free speech. This, I believe, would be an outcome welcomed by Tasmanians.