HUMAN RIGHTS LAWYERS DEEPLY TROUBLED BY ATTACK ON ANTI- DISCRIMINATION PROTECTIONS IN TASMANIA

April 12, 2017 image

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has urged the Tasmanian Parliament to reject proposed changes to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998 (“the Act”) when it is tabled for second reading in the Upper House.

ALHR has slammed the proposed changes to the Act, citing deep concerns that the amendments would have widespread negative implications for many individuals and minority groups. ALHR is also highly critical of the very limited timeframe allowed for community consultation and feedback, and is calling for more time to be given for receipt of submissions from the public before the proposed changes are considered by the Tasmanian parliament.

Robin Banks Co-Chair of ALHR’s Human Rights Act Subcommittee said, “ALHR is deeply troubled by reports that it is now the Government’s intention to seek to expand the proposed changes even further by removing the words “offend” and “insult” from section 17(1). This section currently provides key protection for minority groups against vilification, and would be significantly weakened by any such change to the Act.

“It is highly alarming that these significant amendments have not been publicly announced and therefore there has been no opportunity for community consultation whatsoever. ALHR condemns any move by Parliament to debate those changes without first putting them to the public. Based on the recent overwhelming public support for section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act there is no case for the weakening of Tasmanian protections against hate speech.”

Nicholas Stewart Co-Chair of ALHR’s LGBTI Rights Subcommittee said, “We remind the Legislative Council of it’s historic motion in support of marriage equality which was passed in 2016. The proposed changes to the Act would fly in the face of that motion by leaving the LGBTI community and other individuals and minority groups open to hate speech and offensive, humiliating, intimidating, insulting or ridiculing conduct on the basis of “religious purpose”, the proposed definition of which is ambiguous and without limitation.”

Amelia Higgs, ALHR’s Tasmanian co-convenor said “ALHR echoes its written submissions made to the Upper House in 2016 on this issue. We are not supportive of the proposed changes at all and urge that they be rejected. The previous window for feedback from relevant stakeholders was insufficient and poorly publicised, and the Government now appears likely to sneak in further amendments with no consultation at all. As a result Legislative Councillors cannot make a fully informed or representative decision on the issue. We strongly urge Councillors to insist upon a further opportunity for community submissions to ensure that the democratic principles of responsible and representative government are upheld.”

Stewart continued, “The proposed changes are unnecessary and do not strike a fair balance between freedom of expression and the internationally protected rights of reputation and human dignity. Free speech is not superior to other human rights. It is not supreme.”

“The objective of legislation which seeks to prevent serious harm caused by hate speech that is of sufficient importance to warrant appropriate restrictions on freedom of speech.”

Stewart stressed, “The proposed changes leave individuals and minority groups open to hate speech and offensive, humiliating, intimidating, insulting or ridiculing conduct on the basis of “religious purpose”, the proposed definition of which is ambiguous and without limitation.”

“The Act as it currently stands sufficiently achieves an appropriate balance between providing protection from discrimination and unlawful conduct whilst allowing for genuine public debate and discussion.”

ALHR has today written to 15 members of Tasmania’s Parliament urging them to postpone further debates on the proposed changes until a further opportunity for public feedback has been provided.

Media Contact: To arrange an interview with Robin Banks or Nicholas Stewart please contact Matt Mitchell at media@alhr.org.au or 0431 980 365.