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

Tasmania tussles over free speech debate

AAP logoAAP 20/09/2016 Andrew Drummond

No sooner than the Tasmanian government tabled its planned changes to the state's anti-discrimination laws, came calls for the proposal to be scrapped.

Amid much controversy, the Liberal administration on Tuesday in parliament put forward an amendment Bill, insisting free speech is a fundamental right.

Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin highlighted that the changes do not allow for hate speech but would enable church groups the right to convey their views on social issues such as same-sex marriage, without the fear of being reported to the anti-discrimination commissioner.

"It is everyone's right to be able to genuinely participate in public debate and discussion, while ensuring that there are appropriate protections in place to stop people going too far," the minister said.

But the argument was dismissed by her Labor opposition counterpart Lara Giddings who said the government is refusing to listen to community concerns about the change in law.

"The government must immediately withdraw its determined effort to water down Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Act which achieves nothing more than an open invitation to allow speech that incites hate," Ms Giddings said.

"Tasmanians on both sides of this debate are unhappy with the approach being taken by the government."

Dr Goodwin said the change "strikes the right balance", making clearer the ground rules for people wishing to express views in public debate and would bring Tasmania in line with Victoria and NSW.

"Churches should have the right to articulate their views on social issues such as marriage, provided this is done in a respectful manner," she said.

"Many are unclear what they can and can't say in a public setting - the lack of clarity has stifled some from expressing legitimately held views."

The changes are in-part designed to empower the state's anti-discrimination commissioner to be able to reject complaints based on the grounds of reasonableness.

Vocal protests from Greens leader Cassy O'Connor sparked her ejection from the lower house.

"There is no question that these proposed changes will give rise to discriminatory and hurtful language," Ms O'Connor said.

"Despite not a shred of evidence that the Act as it currently stands has inhibited respectful free speech, the Liberals want to weaken the law and expose vulnerable people to the risk of hate speech."

Parliamentary debate on the Bill is due to start on Wednesday.

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon