Media Statement: Hate Speech Laws are already strong enough

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) is concerned regarding media reports today that the Premier is moving to tighten the NSW Crimes Act seemingly in response to lobbyists from faith-based organisations.  

Comments from Lydia Shelly, President, NSW Council for Civil Liberties

We are concerned about recent media commentary suggesting that the Minns Government is considering “tightening laws against hate speech” based on lobbying undertaken by faith-based groups, in the absence of any legal or policy evidence.

Speech that is controversial that falls short of the current legal threshold should not be criminalised. We already have criminal provisions outlawing the use of offensive language and prohibition against incitement to violence in New South Wales.

On the other hand, speech that is controversial should be rightly challenged, debated, or even ridiculed – including in an open and free press and ought not be criminalised. This is a fundamental value we enjoy living in a democracy. We must not allow changes to our laws that will see our capacity to challenges ideas, positions and beliefs be taken away from us. We must resist any curtailing of free speech that falls short of threatening or inciting violence or the other existing, stringent criminal offences.

We affirm our support for the freedom of religion, and we are concerned that there are reports of increased Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism, as well as violent “right wing” ideologies that are seeking to take advantage of the manner in which public discussions are being held on issues such as the right to protest, the conflict in Palestine and Israel and “hate speech”.

Australia has one of the most robust counter terrorism laws out of any western liberal democracy and thankfully, we have seen a small number of politically motivated violent crimes occur in our country.

New South Wales has strong “hate speech” laws that already criminalises speech that either intentionally or recklessly, threatens or incites violence against someone based on their race, religion, sexual orientation or other characteristics.

New South Wales perversely, also has some of the strongest “anti-protest” laws in Australia – which the Minns Government shows no desire to repeal.

New South Wales is proudly home to people from all walks of life and we are a richer country due to our differences in the languages that we speak around our dinner tables, our political opinions and who we vote for, and our religious beliefs. Australia is overwhelmingly a safe country. We must do all that we can to ensure that our country remains this way, notwithstanding the challenges our communities have faced and will continue to face.

If the legal threshold is lowered, it will not make faith communities any safer from a perceived risk of violence or the risk of actual violence occurring. Dragging people before the Courts will not make communities safer. Instead, the lowering the threshold will potentially have a chilling effect on public discourse and perversely, make it difficult for police and intelligence organisations to monitor those who may plan to resort to violence. Lowering the threshold will substantially alter the fabric of our democracy.

The New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties has long been supportive of remedies for racial vilification. The Council supports educative models that deal with community tensions rather than the blunt instrument of criminal law which give the police power to criminalise.

It is incredibly concerning that under the Minns Government, there seems to be a clear trajectory of faith-based organisations having direct influence over the creation of public policy and law reform without transparency, accountability and without independent evidence to support a need for policy and law reform. This is occurring in an environment where there is a complete lack of genuine consultation with civil liberty and legal experts who arguably stand to advocate for what is in the best interests of all people across all communities.

This is potentially an incredibly dangerous landscape for the creation of public policy and law reform.

We call on the Minns Government to release:

  1. Any reports that have been prepared by any faith-based organisation regarding amendments to the prohibition of incitement to violence or “hate speech” which has been provided to the Minns Government.
  2. The minutes of any meetings held with any faith-based organisations and the Premier or member of the Minns Government where the issue of incitement to violence or “hate speech” laws have been discussed.
  3. Any correspondence that has been received or issued by the Premier or members of the Minns Government by faith-based organisations where the issue of incitement to violence or “hate speech” laws have been discussed.
  4. Details of the faith-based organisations and the individuals that have met with and “lobbied” the Premier and/or member of the Minns Government where the issue of incitement to violence or “hate speech” laws have been discussed.

We call on the Minns Government to publicly reaffirm their understanding of the separation of powers and to reassure the public that our policy and laws have not been, and will not be, unduly influenced by faith-based organisations to the exclusion of civil liberty and legal experts.

The press should also understand that any potential lowering of the threshold may also impact the way they report on issues, and that they have a vested interest and arguably an obligation, to not regurgitate government press releases as “fact” and to defend free speech.