Thursday 6 April 2017
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Second Reading


Mr FINCH (Rosevears)- Mr President, I thank the member for Hobart for comprehensively covering many of the letters, emails and messages we have received from constituents.  It is a good reflection of the way people engage in these debates and want to have their voices heard.  They are prepared to come to us, as Legislative Councillors, to add to the debate.  They offer us as much information as possible as we search for a decision which we can live with and which suits the mood of Tasmanians.

We have received much information, but it is very complex and very hard to get your head around the twists and turns, the nuances of this bill and different people's opinions.  That is why I would have appreciated going down the path suggested by the member for Murchison, having the Law Society take on and bring its legal minds to -

Ms Forrest - The Tasmania Law Reform Institute.

Mr FINCH - Yes, snap; very good - the Tasmania Law Reform Institute.  I just wanted to see if you were with us and listening to what I am saying.  That would have been a good process because the legal minds need to come to this.  Others might find it easier, but it is a bit of a struggle trying to get around the legalese of this matter.  Even though I was as attentive as I possibly could be during the briefings, I found it quite hard to hold onto the information and the nuances, and to find a way forward on this bill.

Many of my constituents, and other people around Tasmania, are wondering why we are wasting time on this bill when there are many other pressing matters which need our attention.  We watched as an inordinate amount of time was wasted over a national debate in the federal parliament with the Coalition's attempt to water down the anti-race hate act by amending section 18C.  It is my belief that our state Government is making a similar mistake.

It is hypocritical to argue that these proposed amendments are about free speech when there are so many government restrictions over free speech.  I would like to highlight in particular the fields of anti-terrorism and immigration detention laws.  Section 42 of the Australian Border Force Act 2015, for instance, prevents immigration department workers from divulging any information.  A 2014 law allows the Attorney-General to define a special intelligence operation and make it a crime for journalists to report on the operation.  Closer to home, in 2014 the state Government enacted new anti-protest legislation which aims to muzzle forest protesters. 

We, of course, hear much about free speech in this argument.  Civil Liberties Australia points out that freedom of expression is a human right of fundamental importance, but it stresses that freedom of expression carries with it special duties and responsibilities -

It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and necessary: 

(a)     for respect of the rights and reputations of others;

(b)     for the protection of national security or of public order ..., or of public health or morals.

That is from Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Australia ratified. 

During our briefings we heard from the former anti‑discrimination commissioner Robin Banks, who told us that this bill appears to be inconsistent with the Government's stated recognition of the benefits of a rich and culturally diverse Tasmanian community and wanting to do all it can to discourage racially motivated attacks.  She said the proposed changes will undermine the important work of prevention of such attacks by moderating the very speech and actions that can incite people to such attacks.  Robin Banks suggested, as I interpret it, that the Government should go back to the drawing board and consult widely with those most likely to be affected by the proposed changes. 

One part of the proposed amendments puzzles me.  That is, that the proposed changes would see people who claim to have a religious belief being given preferential treatment under the law for actions which would otherwise be unlawful. 

Who defines religious belief?  In my view, anybody can claim a religious belief and is therefore legally free to offend, humiliate, intimidate, insult or ridicule.  As mentioned by the member for Hobart, there are 1200 religions.  Was that in Tasmania or in Australia?

Mr Valentine - In the world.

Mr FINCH - I have told you 1000 times not to exaggerate; in fact, I have told you 1 million times.  I wanted to clarify that.

Mr Valentine - It is from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Mr FINCH - Thank you.  Many of us who were brought up as Christians, including those of us in the Catholic Church like me, were taught 'Do unto others' - that is, to treat others as you would like to be treated.  I suggest that involves vilification, among other things.  This was summed up in the email we received from the Reverend Ian Carmichael, who supported the act as it is currently worded.  I, like the member for Hobart, was impressed with that email.  That was going to form most of my speech.

Mr Valentine - I do apologise.

Mr FINCH - I accept your apology.  People tuning in or coming in now on the debate will, I think, refer back to the presentation by the member for Hobart, or refer to Hansard to read the email we received from the Reverend Ian Carmichael.  That email nailed it for me.  I agree with it and suggest it was good advice.  He put the case for retaining the act as it stands far better than I could.  His arguments alone condemn those proposed amendments.  I also condemn them.  I do not support the bill.