Discrimination Bill An Attack On Queenslanders’ Free Speech

Written by:
4 July 2024
Discrimination Bill An Attack On Queenslanders’ Free Speech - Featured image

“The Queensland government’s proposed anti-discrimination reforms represent a draconian attack on free speech that may prevent faith-based schools from teaching their beliefs and provide activists with power to censor debate,” said Margaret Chambers, Research Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs.

In June, the Queensland government introduced the Respect at Work and Other Matters Amendment Bill 2024 seeking to add broad, subjective tests to the state’s anti-discrimination laws. The IPA’s research has uncovered two fundamental flaws with the proposed legislation:

  • The Bill would dramatically expand the scope and reduce the standard for unlawful speech, by outlawing speech considered ‘hateful’.
  • The Bill will have a chilling effect on the speech of workers by imposing an ambiguous duty on employers to eliminate ‘objectionable conduct’.

In a submission to the Queensland Parliament’s Community Safety and Legal Affairs Committee inquiry, the IPA highlighted that determining whether speech or a public act is ‘hateful’ is not an objective legal standard.

“The ambiguity implicit in the term renders it inappropriate to use in legislation without objective measures and specific guidance as to how the provision would be enforced,” said Ms Chambers.

“Lowering such standards to anything a complainant perceives to be ‘hateful’ is highly subjective. Furthermore, the Bill offers no assurance to Queenslanders, particularly religious institutions, that these amendments will not be weaponised by activists to censor debate.”

“Had these laws been in place at the time of the Voice referendum last year, an accusation that political speech was motivated by ‘hate’ could well have been used to silence the opinion of any one of the 68 per cent of Queenslanders who voted ‘No’,” said Ms Chambers.

The IPA’s analysis establishes that attempting to outlaw speech and acts considered ‘hateful’ violates fundamental legal principles, that those subject to the law must be capable of understanding their obligations under it, and that the law must be applied in an impartial manner.

“The Bill makes certain that ‘hateful’ speech could only be determined according to the opinions of a complainant or prosecutor. Thus, the enforcement of such a provision fails a key test of the rule of law that a law must be easily understood and impartially applied,” said Ms Chambers.

“Likewise, the duty to stamp out ‘objectionable conduct’ is undefined in the bill so that those subject to the provision are in no way able to understand their legal obligation. Such vague rules will inevitably lead to a legal quagmire.”

Worryingly, the Bill forms part of broader reforms the state government has announced it will pursue following the next election. These reforms would undermine the legal paradigm of equality before the law, and make it more onerous for religious bodies to maintain their religious ethos.

“Bitter experience has shown how other anti-free speech laws, such Section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act, have been weaponised by activists to target individuals based on their political opinions, most prominently Bill Leak and Andrew Bolt,” said Ms Chambers.

“The Queensland government’s Bill would likewise hand a sword to activists to initiate lawfare against someone based on their expression of a genuinely held political or religious opinion. These are laws written for activists to silence mainstream Queenslanders.”

To download the IPA’s submission click here.

Support the IPA

If you liked what you read, consider supporting the IPA. We are entirely funded by individual supporters like you. You can become an IPA member and/or make a tax-deductible donation.