David Leyonhjelm: Senator’s big free speech pushOctober 31, 2016
GUN toting crossbench Senator David Leyonhjelm has issued a challenge to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to strip the words “insult” and “offend” from at least eight Commonwealth Acts that seek to limit free speech.
With Mr Turnbull opening the door to a parliamentary inquiry into free speech, the NSW Liberal Democrat will introduce a private members bill to the Senate, urging sympathetic Liberal MPs to go beyond the controversial section 18C of the racial discrimination act which makes it unlawful to insult or offend anyone.
He has identified at least eight other commonwealth Acts which have similar free speech constraints and make it unlawful to offend or insult someone. All will be contained in an omnibus repeal bill to go before the Senate before the end of the year.
They include sections of the criminal act that makes a crime of sending letters that may “offend” someone, insulting a bankruptcy court registrar or offend and insult a magistrate.
The bill would target similar provisions in the Defence Act, the Bankruptcy Act, environmental laws, the Fair Work Act and the Veterans’ Entitlements Act.
Mr Leyonhjelm is at the centre of the ‘guns for votes’ deal in which the government agreed to review a gun classification in return for his vote on union corruption laws. Mr Leyonhjelm said his Free Speech Omnibus No. 1 (Insult and Offend) Bill 2016 would not be tied to any deal in return for his vote on any unrelated government bills before the Senate. Mr Turnbull last Friday appeared to soften the ground for an inquiry into Section 18C, after having previously refusing to revisit the issue after it was dropped by Tony Abbott in the face of a political backlash.
Repeal of the section that cites as unlawful the act of offending or insulting someone on the basis of sex, race or religion, is seen as an immutable principle for many Liberal MPs — from both moderate and right wing camps on the basis it stifles free speech.
Mr Turnbull said the government would consider a proposal by West Australian Liberal senator Dean Smith for a parliamentary inquiry into examining its repeal.
“Free speech is fundamental to a free society, and yet we face numerous laws that limit what we can talk about and what the media can report. S18C of the Racial Discrimination Act is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.
“I’m particularly concerned about laws that seek to protect feelings. Whether someone is insulted or offended is up to them. The law is there to protect our lives, liberty and property, not to save us from hurt feelings. Civility cannot be imposed by the law.
“This bill is the first of three I plan to introduce, aimed at promoting free speech. My plan is to demonstrate that repealing S18C should be just the first step towards claiming our right to speak freely.”
By SIMON BENSON, National Political Editor, The Daily Telegraph