In response to escalating tensions surrounding the conflict in Gaza, a legislative reform has been introduced to the New South Wales parliament, granting the police the authority to bring charges for threats and incitement to violence based on race and religion. Premier Chris Minns, emphasizing the need for robust hate speech laws, announced the change after a prompt review of existing legislation, stating that such laws should possess substantial enforcement capabilities.
However, the proposed reform has faced criticism from prominent legal figures who argue that safeguards are crucial, expressing concerns that the changes could potentially "open the floodgates for controversial speech to be investigated."
Under the current system, police are required to obtain approval from the director of public prosecutions (DPP) before charging individuals for making threats or inciting violence. The proposed amendment seeks to bypass the DPP, entrusting the power directly to the police.
Lydia Shelly, the president of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, said the changes risked unintended consequences.
“These … may include the politicisation of police investigations and prosecutions, the misuse of police resources … as well as a chilling effect on issues that should be debated in public,” she said.
Shelly said the alleged abhorrent chants at the Opera House should already be captured under the legislation and any controversial speech that falls short of the current legal threshold should not be criminalised.
“Removing the DPP as a safeguard risk opening the floodgates for controversial speech to be investigated, risks further deteriorating social cohesion,” she said.
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