You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Growing opposition to Tas free speech bill

AAP logoAAP 20/09/2016 Andrew Drummond

Tasmanian Premier Will Hodgman has been forced to defend his government's proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws, championing improved free speech for religious groups against a growing chorus of opposition.

In an unexpected rebuke, the Australian Christian Lobby has joined the list of objectors, labelling the Liberal administration's amendment a failure.

And the state's commissioner for children said it equates to bullying.

While fiery debate filled Tasmania's lower house on Wednesday as Labor and the Greens called for the bill to be scrapped, the most stinging opposition came from outside the chamber.

"We do not believe (the bill) achieves the stated goal - to better protect freedom of speech for all Tasmanians," ACL state director Mark Brown said.

"(We believe) that the addition of a defence for religious purpose will likely only provide safeguards for a select group of Tasmanians with a religious motive.

"This does not protect free speech for the entire community and is unhelpful insofar as it sends the message that religious people are receiving special exemptions to do things which would otherwise be immoral."

Mr Brown said he has written to the government, outlining his opinion.

"People should be allowed to express a point of view in public, not just within a religious community," he said.

"A significant number of Tasmanians don't have a religious basis for their objections to contentious issues like same-sex marriage."

The premier insists that the amendment would level the playing field and bring Tasmania in line with Victoria and NSW ahead of the planned February plebiscite on same-sex marriage.

"What we are seeking to do here, without going to each and every provision, is to not only improve the process for determining matters in dispute ... but to provide some provision for religious purposes," he said.

Labor leader Bryan Green and Greens leader Cassy O'Connor both criticised the government's amendment for opening the door to hate speech.

The premier bit back, criticising Ms O'Connor for backing the rules to suit her own purposes.

"You're quite happy to use your argument to allow groups of artists or academics or scientists or researchers to engage in what you would categorise as hate speech, but you won't allow those with a religious perspective," Mr Hodgman said.

"This highlights your agenda and your motive: this is about choosing yourselves when you consider something appropriate and to be able to be expressed freely and worse still, when you want to prevent certain groups in our community from free speech."

In a further blow for the government, Tasmania's commissioner for children and young people Mark Morrissey also spoke out against the bill.

"These amendments will excuse conduct that would otherwise be offensive, humiliating or intimidating or would amount to incitement of hatred towards a person, if that conduct is carried out in good faith and for religious purposes," he said.

"I am particularly concerned at the message these amendments sends to children and young people, especially those who by virtue of a particular attribute are seen as 'different' and can be ridiculed, harassed or insulted on the basis of that attribute. This is the essence of bullying."

Tasmania's parliament has previously given in-principle support to same-sex marriage.

Debate on the bill continues.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon