Morgan Begg Discussing IPA Research On Queensland’s Anti-discrimination Laws 4BC Brisbane – 4 July 2024

Written by:
4 July 2024
Morgan Begg Discussing IPA Research On Queensland’s Anti-discrimination Laws 4BC Brisbane – 4 July 2024 - Featured image

The Institute of Public Affairs’ Morgan Begg appeared on 4BC Brisbane to discuss the IPA’s research on Queensland’s anti-discrimination laws.

All media appearances posted onto the IPA website are directly related to the promotion and dissemination of IPA research.

Below is a transcript of the interview.


Bill McDonald:

Back in 2021, the Attorney General requested that the Queensland Human Rights Commission undertake a review, and it was of the Anti-Discrimination Act. This review was the first since its introduction. There’s been calls for changes to anti-discrimination laws to keep up-to-date with societal norms. We know there’s been a lot of change in that space, a lot of debate. The final report made 46 recommendations, and it was tabled in Parliament on September 1, 2022.

The final Queensland government response to the report was tabled in the Legislative Assembly in 2023. The response gave in-principle support to all of the recommendations. It included a redrafting of the current Act. It also gave a commitment to introduce legislation in this term of government. The government did seek community feedback on the draught bill, and that will replace the Act. Those submissions closed in March, and they’re being reviewed as the government continues to draught the Anti-Discrimination Bill 2024.

The response, fair to say, has been mixed. An Institute of Public Affairs submission has highlighted that determining whether free speech or a public act is hateful is not an objective legal standard. So, are these changes a chance to appropriately protect people from discrimination, or on the other side of the fence, is it an attack on free speech? I’ll try and answer that question now. Joining us is Morgan Begg, the Director of Research from the Institute of Public Affairs. Good morning, Morgan.

Morgan Begg:

Morning, Bill.

Bill McDonald:

So what is it? Is it free speech under attack with these proposed changes, or not?

Morgan Begg:

Oh, absolutely it is. And without a doubt, in the absence of genuine parliamentary debate or genuine media scrutiny, the state government has quietly slipped into Parliament legislation that would have a dramatic impact on the free speech of all Queenslanders. So what they’re proposing to do-

Bill McDonald:

Yeah, give us an indication. That’d be good.

Morgan Begg:

Yeah. So what they’re proposing to do is to add a new category of unlawful speech to the state’s existing anti-vilification laws that would make it unlawful to engage in hateful speech, which you mentioned before. The problem with using a standard like hateful is that it is completely subjective. What is hateful is in the eye of the beholder, and there is no objective legal test for knowing what is hateful and what is not hateful.

So what this will mean is that anything that someone might consider potentially contentious will be swept up in the scope of the laws. And in that sense, I think there’s a genuine risk that it will hand a loaded weapon to activists to make what will now be valid complaints to the State Human Rights Commission to silence opinions they don’t agree with.

Bill McDonald:

Wow. So this is a pretty open catch-all then. It could be a minefield.

Morgan Begg:

Oh, absolutely. And because the threshold for making complaints is so low, and the way that the Human Rights Commission operates is that they’ll accept all complaints, and they run a very non-transparent process. So we’re talking about a situation in which potentially any debate in this country is swept up into a very damaging process, and the state of debate could be completely locked up.

Bill McDonald:

So the government has published that the bill’s purpose is to promote and protect the rights to equality and non-discrimination, eliminate discrimination, sexual harassment, vilification, and other lawful conduct to the greatest extent possible. They seem reasonable aims, but it should be more nuanced. What should they have done with this to get it right and so it doesn’t end up being the way it is at the moment?

Morgan Begg:

You’re completely right. These are valid aims for any government to pursue. But the problem is when they use language like this, completely ambiguous, vague standards, the problem is that it is impossible to know and to predict how this law will be applied in the future. This is a key rule of law value, is that people that are governed by a law must be capable of understanding that law. But this bill completely fails that test. So what a government would need to do is to use objective words that have a clear definition and to include those definitions within the bill itself, which this bill fails to do.

Bill McDonald:

So almost like, so if you use this language or if you use this particular, or if you talk about this. They should be more specific rather than just broad.

Morgan Begg:

Well, that’s right. But I mean, this goes to a deeper point, that trying to limit what they call hate speech, it’s fundamentally subjective because hate is not an objective legal principle. So there’s a genuine question whether it is possible for a government to make a clear law in this area.

Bill McDonald:

What are the implications then for everyday Queenslanders under these proposed changes?

Morgan Begg:

Well, on the one hand, there’s a direct implication on all Queenslanders, that because of the potential scope of this bill, engaging in any public debate could be observed by another person as being hateful, and that could be the subject of a complaint. It also goes further. So another aspect of the bill is that it will impose on persons, including employers, a positive duty to prevent what it calls objectionable conduct. And the interesting thing about this is that is not defined in the bill. Our analysis shows that at the very least it would apply to hateful acts, but it could also extend to acts that are not respectful. And again, these are not defined in the Act.

Bill McDonald:

Yeah. How do you interpret what I might think is respectful or not respectful, you might not?

Morgan Begg:

Exactly. It totally, it defies explanation. And they haven’t attempted to explain it either in any of the debates or in any of the explanatory memoranda. It completely fails the rule of law test. And what that means is, for instance, an employer, a faith-based organisation might be required, in order to comply with this law, to affirm ideas that are inconsistent with their religious doctrines, such as modern gender theory or other contentious social issues that they fundamentally disagree with.

Bill McDonald:

Oh, so it’s got real implications for religious bodies then?

Morgan Begg:

Yeah, absolutely it is. And I mean, not just religious bodies. That’s just an example. It will be all bodies, all employers. All groups/organisations will be on the line to prevent the undefined objectionable conduct standard.

Bill McDonald:

This is going to be a minefield to try and… So why are they letting this through the way it’s written? Is it lazy, or are they intentionally doing this?

Morgan Begg:

Well, that’s the million-dollar question, Bill. It seems the way that it is drafted, from my eyes, is it’s completely lazy. I’m not sure how a drafter could put this together. So, you draw your own conclusions from that.

Bill McDonald:

So for freedom of speech and political opinion, it’s a cross. It’s a black mark.

Morgan Begg:

Yeah, total failure. Total failure and a breach of the rule of law.

Bill McDonald:

Is there any marching it back, or is this going to be marching forward and set in stone?

Morgan Begg:

Well, I think in that respect, it’s a real test for the opposition. As I mentioned, this bill has really proceeded up to this point without any political debate in parliament or outside parliament. But I think this is an issue that goes to the very heart of the social and political culture of Queensland. And I think at this point, the only way it could not proceed is if there’s opposition. So this is a test for the opposition. It’s not enough to just stand back and let them through.

Bill McDonald:

It seems like it’s been lost and forgotten. It’s pretty important. It’s been lost and forgotten in all the pre-election argy-bargy and all the other election giveaways and sweeteners that the government is doing. It’s important.

Morgan Begg:

That’s the critical thing. This is a bill to radically redefine the limits of free speech, and it’s happening ahead of an election and without any debate. I think it’s appalling.

Bill McDonald:

All right. Thanks for bringing this to our attention and explaining it a little bit more, the implications of this. It’s pretty wide-ranging. Appreciate your time, Morgan.

Morgan Begg:

Thank you very much.

Bill McDonald:

There you go. Wow, that’s big, isn’t it? Morgan Begg, Director of Research from the Institute of Public Affairs. This change to the Anti-Discrimination Act, you won’t be able to say anything without possibly offending anyone and everyone if this gets through. This has just obviously been brushed under the carpet. It’s been ignored. It’s been put in the too hard basket, rubber-stamped, call it what you like under this Miles government, by the sound of things. And we’re going to get lumbered with it unless the opposition and people arc up about it. What do you make of that? 133 882 on the open line or text 0499 880 882.

I’ll update you on this protest on top of Parliament House, which is happening live as we speak. Pro-Palestinian protesters on the roof of Parliament. I’ll give you all that detail shortly. It’s 11 to 11:00 on 4BC Mornings.

This transcript with Morgan Begg talking on 4BC Brisbane from 4 July 2024 has been edited for clarity.

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.