Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Big Brother Anti-Discrimination Legislation

Dec 11, 2012

You know things are getting bad when even hard-core leftists and civil libertarians join with conservatives in opposing draconian and anti-freedom of speech law proposals. I refer to the draft Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill 2012 which has recently been released for comment.

It seeks to update, expand and standardise the current laws and make things even more difficult for those concerned about religious freedom, freedom of conscience, and freedom of speech. Of real concern are the addition of two new categories, sexual orientation and gender identity, and the stripping away of various religious exemptions.

As with many such laws already around the country in various states, the result of all this is to in effect declare that a person is guilty until proven innocent. The one complained against will have to prove he is not being discriminatory, and should be exempt from the law. A lengthy discussion by Jenny Stokes of what is involved in this new proposed legislation can be found in the first link below.

All churches and religious groups should be quite concerned about all this. Commentator Pat Byrne also sounds alarm bells here: “If Roxon’s bill becomes law, freedom of religious practice – and of churches and faith-based agencies to employ people of their own religious beliefs – will be granted only by ‘exceptions’ and ‘exemptions’ in the law.

“In selecting candidates for the ministry, churches are told that they can freely choose, but only because they will be allowed to ‘discriminate’ on grounds of sex, age, relationship status, sexual orientation, etc. However, when it comes to faith-based schools and other church agencies, the new law will only make an ‘exception’ for discrimination that consists of conduct that ‘conforms to the doctrines, tenets or beliefs of that religion; or is necessary to avoid injury to the religious sensitivities of adherents of that religion’.

“The mainstream churches may gain ‘exceptions’ from the law, because their ‘doctrines, tenets or beliefs’ have been refined and codified over centuries or millennia (S33(2)). However, numerous independent Christian churches will find it hard to define their beliefs so clearly. They may well find themselves subject to the full force of this law.”

He continues, “Roxon’s bill chisels away at Australians’ long-cherished right to religious freedom. Curiously, it seems that even political parties may be subject to the new anti-discrimination law. It will be interesting to see what happens should a card-carrying Liberal Party member take a case to the AHRC claiming discrimination because he/she was refused employment on Nicola Roxon’s staff because of his/her political ideas.”

Yes quite so. And an important speech was just delivered by James Spigelman, Chairman of the ABC and former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW. He also is greatly concerned about this bill, and how freedoms will be snatched away from us. Excerpts from his speech are well worth sharing here:

“There may now have elapsed sufficient time for us to debate the issue dispassionately, and not on the basis of whether or not you like Andrew Bolt. The focus of that debate was not on the existence of a racial vilification provision, but on the breadth of the conduct to which section 18 C extends, namely, conduct ‘reasonably likely … to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person’.

“The key criticism was directed to the fact that the section made speech which merely ‘offends’ unlawful. A similar, but less powerful objection, can be made to the reference to ‘insult’. The critique did not, generally, extend to the words ‘humiliate or intimidate’.”

He continues, “The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended. I am not aware of any international human rights instrument, or national anti-discrimination statute in another liberal democracy, that extends to conduct which is merely offensive. I have not conducted a detailed review of the international position in this respect. However, so far as I have been able to determine, we would be pretty much on our own in declaring conduct which does no more than offend, to be unlawful. In a context where human rights protection draws on a global jurisprudence, this should give us pause when we re-enact s 18C and before we extend such protection to other contexts.”

He concludes with these words: “The new Bill proposes a significant redrawing of the line between permissible and unlawful speech. This is so, notwithstanding the ability to establish that relevant conduct falls within a statutory exception. A freedom that is contingent on proving, after the event, that it was exercised reasonably or on some other exculpatory basis, is a much reduced freedom. Further, as is well known, the chilling effect of the mere possibility of legal processes will prevent speech that could have satisfied an exception.

“When rights conflict, drawing the line too far in favour of one, degrades the other right. Words such as ‘offend’ and ‘insult’, impinge on freedom of speech in a way that words such as ‘humiliate’, ‘denigrate,’ ‘intimidate’, ‘incite hostility’ or ‘hatred’ or ‘contempt’, do not. To go beyond language of the latter character, in my opinion, goes too

“None of Australia’s international treaty obligations require us to protect any person or group from being offended. We are, however, obliged to protect freedom of speech. We should take care not to put ourselves in a position where others could reasonably assert that we are in breach of our international treaty obligations to protect freedom of speech.”

Quite so. This is more nanny state, big government restriction on healthy free speech, and a dangerous step toward more of the flawed concepts of hate speech and hate crimes. Orwell’s Big Brother thrived on such things, but no democracy should even be thinking about moving in this direction.

And given all the mischief such laws have had on Christian groups and churches already, this move will only mean more restrictions of religious freedom, primarily that of Christians to proclaim the gospel and stand for truth in the public arena.

What Chuck Colson once said about the US is certainly applicable here: “In George Orwell’s classic novel 1984, the government Thought Police constantly spies on citizens to make sure they are not thinking rebellious thoughts. Thought crimes are severely punished by Big Brother. 1984 was intended as a warning against totalitarian governments that enslave and control their citizens. Never have we needed this warning more urgently than now, because America’s Thought Police are knocking on your door.”

Or as Orwell said elsewhere, “The further a society drifts from the truth, the more it will hate those that speak it.” Indeed, that seems to be the main reason why such laws are being proposed in the first place.

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15 Responses to Big Brother Anti-Discrimination Legislation

  • The Institute for Public Affairs and the Centre for Independent Studies have got some great articles taking this sort of stuff apart.
    Lee Herridge, WA

  • “1984 was intended as a warning against totalitarian governments that enslave and control their citizens.”

    Seems that Gillard and Roxon considered it an instruction manual.

    Simon Barron

  • Thanks Bill.

    A bit off topic but I think this story deserves a mention

    Actually on reflection, its not that far off topic is it?

    Annette Williams

  • What is wrong with these people? Do they not get that in order to decide what is and isn’t speech that is allowed you need someone to be the umpire? What happens if the umpire is corrupt? Forget that, what happens if the umpire only has a slight bias?

    It amazes me that people will get extremely upset if the umpire or referee of a sporting game shows even the smallest favourtism, yet they will not blink at something that matters to everybody 24/7 in real life.

    For those who think this kind of idea is not a problem, try to imagine similar powers in the hands of someone you strongly disagree with, not with whom you might agree with now. And imagine that they consider your ideas and speech offensive. What if writing ‘Xmas’ was a crime? What if changing the words to a Christmas carol got you fined? What if using the name of God or Jesus in vain would get you time behind bars? It doesn’t matter if you think these are silly examples, the point is that no-one should have to power to decide what topic is unable to be broached because one day it might be you that is affected. Still support the idea?

    Criminalising speech. Seriously? In Australia? That something like this can even get tabled is alarming in itself.

    Mark Rabich

  • No-one under heaven and Earth has the right to deprive me of my free agency and my Constitutional Right to freedom of speech in as much as I speak the truth. To deprive me of my God given freedoms is to enslave me and this will only happen over my dead body because that is the only way in which they will ever silence me and prevent me from speaking the truth.

    Too bad if people don’t like to hear the truth, but truth will always be the truth, regardless of the time and circumstances. As God said “I am the same God today as I was yesterday, and I will be the same God tomorrow as I am today because I am a true and unchangeable God and the same holds true for my Eternal Truths” paraphrased.

    They can carry me off to their Courts, they can throw me into prison and they may well silence me by depriving me of my life, but only after all the kicking and screaming with all the strength of my body, beliefs and mortal breath.

    Leigh Stebbins

  • And would you believe that the Law Institute of Victoria has lent its support to the Bill? We know the country is falling to pieces when the chief lawyers’ body of a state fails to see the problem with a reverse onus. It is a terrible bill.

    Nick Davies

  • It sounds more like Communitarianism at work, today. Neither Communism, nor Capitalism — but a “Third Way” that has been touted by many recent leaders, including Tony Blair and Obama.
    A good explanation of it, with links, here:
    Sadly, we are seeing many churches getting caught up in Communitarian philosophy, today.
    Monica Craver

  • 1984 is a brill book. Room 101 is such a creepy idea, and based, you’ll be pleased to know, on the room Orwell worked in at the notoriously leftish BBC! Animal Farm is a great read too. Coming Up For Air is rubbish. Orwell is hard to pin down. Don’t think he was Christian?
    Mavis Marion Hartnell

  • Thanks Mavis

    No he wasn’t really, although he had a bit to do with the Church of England on and off.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Even leftist David Marr thinks that there shouldn’t be laws which protect people from offence:

    Jereth Kok

  • The fact that this Government would even consider such a vile attack on our democracy, seriously thinking that it was good policy, tells a lot about their lack of moral compass and the fact that the Greens have them by the scruff of the neck. This is mainly about one issue alone I believe, to silence any debate or criticism of or about homosexuality and lesbianism. Even though medical evidence tells us clearly how dangerous a live style homosexuality can be and many faiths reject that life style whilst still accepting the person. It’s like a spoilt child saying to their mother, “Mummy he thinks differently to me, make him like me so I wont feel so bad about myself”.

    Anthony McGlone

  • This sort of legislation is very worrying. It’s as though Government is working up to making our beloved Country into a Dictatorship. God forbid that this should happen.
    Our Faith, our God created being, and our Freedom of speech and worship will be annihilated. Do these people not realise that they were elected by the people and that they SHOULD listen to what the people are asking for- which is good HONEST Government with their Country’s best interest at heart and definitely NOT their own interests at the forefront.

    Agnes Kennedy

  • To be offended can be a helpful mechanism to bring us closer to what is true. If we eliminated offense, we would stunt our character growth.Jesus was certainly not worried about offending anyone, but he remained concerned about the state of a person’s soul till the end. When the young ruler walked away after Jesus told him something he couldn’t accept, at least not at the time, Jesus followed him with his eyes, loving him. As Christians, this is the best service we can render our fellow man, not shifting fro the unchanging truth, but loving that soul with passion that leadsus to prayer and keeping communication lines open for the time they may come back and ask for some more of that truth that they previously rejected.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  • Prof. Mary-Ann Glendon on her recent visit to Australia spoke on Politics as a Vocation. In it she quoted Pope Benedict XVI in his recent address in Germany where he stated “A politician will naturally seek success, without which he would have no opportunity for effective political action at all, but success can be seductive, opening up the path towards falsification of what is right”.
    This last part especially is true of the current government here in Australia.
    Madge Fahy

  • Thanks for highlighting and speaking clearly about this Bill. It certainly seems to have a very powerful but seriously flawed intent. Please continue to speak forth clearly.
    Keith Johnston

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