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Thursday, 21 March 2013
Page: 3021


Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (11:03): I take this opportunity to speak about freedom of speech and matters relating to expressing oneself in this country. Although the right to freedom of speech is not enshrined in our Constitution, it nevertheless exist in various statues. But, in recent decades there have been laws created that prescribe what can and cannot be said. While some elements of such laws are correct, some parts also go too far. I contend that there is a narrow margin between protection and restriction, between censorship and the ability to express legitimate concerns so that, in some respects, we come close to mirroring censorship such as in places like Vietnam, Syria, Iraq and Turkey who impose laws on speaking on certain topics, have strict media controls and even sensor what people see or do online. Here we have the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 which makes it unlawful to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate a person, or group of people, if done because of the race, colour or national or ethnic origin of the person, or of part or all the people in a group. While each of the states and territories have what may be called their 'hate speech' laws, there is a lack of consistency between them: some are too vague while others attempt to wrap people up in cotton wool. New South Wales' Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 states you cannot incite hatred towards, or serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or groups on the grounds of race. Tasmania goes even further in their Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, which includes, as well as race, disability, sexuality, belief or affiliations. This is going perhaps too far. In Victoria it is far vaguer. There, it is unlawful to even hold serious contempt for someone based on their beliefs.

I appreciate the need to ensure that criticism or denigration of persons based on race, disability, gender or sexuality must be prevented, however, the right to question and be critical of the choices of people should be allowed. I do not suggest that it should be legal to incite hatred or violence based upon religion or belief, however it should be legal to question and be critical of the choices a person makes, because to do otherwise is to be censored.

Considering that we should not be able to question race, ethnicity, sexuality and disability, I believe it should be acceptable to be openly critical of the choices people make, such as their political views, beliefs, affiliations or actions. These are controllable by the individual and others should be free to have their say on such, as long as it is not to incite violence or hatred. I came across a quote, that 'freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend someone'. Just because what someone says may offend you does not mean they cannot say that.

We need only to look at the reaction associated with the release of the controversial film Innocence of Muslims. While the intent was to be offensive and insulting, it did not incite hatred or call for violence. There were those who responded blindly to the film without seeing it. Having watched it myself, I can vouch for its poor quality, lack of sophistication and ignorance. The response gave credit to the film makers, who did not deserve it. This shows how valuable it is to be informed before abusing your freedom of speech. Even various Islamic leaders banded together to call for an end to the outrageous response many showed towards the film, proving that an uninformed opinion loses its credibility.

There are many nations who have far less freedom of speech and expression than we do, including Saudi Arabia, where religious opinions are suppressed and Vietnam, where critics of the government are blocked. You can even go online to see which sites are censored in Iran. Despite the irony of its supreme leader having Twitter and Instagram accounts, both of these sites are banned from most of their nation's population.

Parliament is one of the few places whereby, under parliamentary privilege, we can speak freely. Yet in Australia there are many restrictions on what people may say and do. While some of this is necessary, it is unnecessary to wrap people up in cotton wool and make attempts to punish those who say or do things you personally find offensive. When reflecting on Voltaire's views, Evelyn Beatrice Hall said that, 'I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.' We must all concur with that view. Just because you do not agree does not mean the person you do not agree with cannot exercise their right to freedom of speech and expression. Related to this are the special deals for some within our society, such as special funds or greater consideration to grant applications based upon their ethnicity, regardless of whether the person or group has outstanding access to opportunities such as education.

We are incredibly blessed to live in a nation where everyone has access to schools and all start with the same opportunities. It is then up to the individual to take responsibility for what they do with those opportunities already handed to them. The point is that only you can take the credit for what you achieve, and only you can take responsibility for any mistakes you make and the decisions you make. You have to take responsibility for failing to take hold of those opportunities.