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Premier Letting Down Vulnerable Tasmanians with Anti-Discrimination Changes

Parliamentary Activity - Wednesday, 17 August 2016, Cassy O'Connor MP


Ms O'CONNOR question to PREMIER, Mr HODGMAN

Tasmania's equal opportunity commissioner believes your plan to weaken the Anti-Discrimination Act in the lead up to a possible plebiscite is excessive.  The Australian Lawyers Alliance is 'extremely concerned'.  It states that 'the current act works extremely well and offers vital protection to vulnerable groups'.  Former Tasmanian of the Year, Rodney Croome, is also very worried that any changes to the act may cause harm to LGBTI Tasmanians.  Isn't it a fact that you have once again caved in to the extreme conservatives in your own party and the church in a move that will weaken protections, not only for LGBTI people, but a whole range of peoples, including those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, older Tasmanians, women, people living with a disability and the list goes on?  Why would you want to let these Tasmanians down?

 

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, I thank the leader of the so-called Greens party for her question.  I will take the opportunity to inform the House of the Government's intentions on this matter.  The protection of those vulnerable in our community, including protection from inappropriate conduct or behaviours, is very important to us all - as is the right to free speech.  I think that is a very, very important tenet of our democracy and our society, and it is something that we should also very strongly defend.  A right to free speech done in a respectful way, even the right to express a view contrary to others, is a very important part of our democracy that we get to enjoy with greater privileges than others.  We should remember those in our community who greatly value their right to freedom of speech.

Opposition members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  I find it rather ironic that we are talking about the Anti-Discrimination Act and members keep interjecting on the Premier who is attempting to answer a question about free speech.  The Premier will resume answering the question - in silence.

Mr HODGMAN - In my view, people should be able to freely express their view reasonably and in accordance with their views.  Even if you do not agree with them, I think people are entitled to do that.

Members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  The Premier has the call to address the House.

Mr HODGMAN - With every right does come responsibilities.  We want to ensure that the laws around those responsibilities are right, and that they strike the right balance.  That is exactly what I said when this debate was first commenced last year.  The Government's view is that our laws, in particular in relation to the Anti-Discrimination Act, do not currently get that balance right.

I made it clear on the debate on same-sex marriage in this place when we all had an opportunity to express our views that there will be many others in the community who want to express theirs.  We need to take the opportunity, appropriately so, to determine whether the legal framework around people's rights to do that strikes the right balance.  I said that we would consider options to address concerns regarding the operation of the Anti-Discrimination Act and it is a responsibility of government to listen to everyone's concerns as well when considering these matters.  I said then that we are mindful to ensure that the act allows -

Ms Dawkins interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order, I warn the member for Bass, Ms Dawkins, who keeps interjecting.  The member from that side of the House is asking this question and the Premier is attempting to answer it.  At least give him an opportunity to address the House.  If this gets debated, all members will have an opportunity at some stage.

Mr HODGMAN - appropriate protection for genuine public debate and discussion.  We need to take into account community concerns about freedom of religion, freedom of political communication, legislative provisions in other jurisdictions, and ensure that the right framework is available to all Tasmanians - not just those of us who can very freely express our views in this place.

The government will not be making any changes to section 17 of the act, despite the dishonest claims that were freely made by the Greens about that.  We will not be seeking to do that.  It does not stop you making dishonest claims as you exercise your right to freedom of speech.  We will not be proposing changes to section 17.  What we will be doing is firstly moving to amend section 55 of the act to add a reasonableness test and to include religious preferences.  This will provide -

Ms O'Connor - It is already there in 17(1).

Mr HODGMAN - Well, if you agree with it you will be able to vote for it.  I am telling you what we are doing.  This will provide for genuine protection of freedom of religion during public debate by striking a fairer balance between the right to free speech and the need to protect people from unlawful conduct.  Specifically, this amendment will mean that a public act must be done reasonably and in good faith to fall within the exemption provided by section 55C.  A similar reasonableness test is included in equivalent provisions in other states.

Secondly, moving to amend section 64 of the act to provide that the Antidiscrimination Commissioner must reject a complaint if they are of the opinion that a reasonable person, having regard to all the circumstances, would not have anticipated that the other person would be offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed or in circumstances where the complaint related to conduct that is within the scope of section 55 or where there is a valid defence.  There are concerns that the current threshold for the acceptance of a complaint is too low.  If a complaint is accepted by the Antidiscrimination Commissioner, the respondent may be subjected to lengthy, costly and stressful proceedings, even if the complaint is ultimately dismissed - meaning that in some circumstances the threat of a complaint may suppress debate.

In essence, this change will allow a complaint to be quickly resolved and rejected in circumstances where there is a valid defence, as opposed to the current system where parties are usually asked to participate in a conciliation conference.  It is noted that a complainant whose complaint is rejected by the ADC will still be able to apply to the tribunal for the rejection to be reviewed under section 65(2). 

Third, any other necessary or consequential amendments that arise during the drafting process because the Government intends to consult freely and widely with people to seek the views of the community and legal stakeholders on this very important issue.  A draft bill will be released shortly to further inform the public consultation.