House debates

Monday, 11 September 2023

Private Members' Business

Freedom of Speech

5:56 pm

Photo of Michael McCormackMichael McCormack (Riverina, National Party, Shadow Minister for International Development and the Pacific) Share this | Hansard source

There's one thing I'll say about the member for Banks: David Coleman is very careful and considered, and he has put forward a very astute private member's motion here. Noting that the government is seeking to impose new misinformation laws, he quite accurately describes them as 'deeply flawed', because they are.

Even before submissions closed on 20 August, the government's exposure draft bill had been subjected to widespread criticism. Some of those who came out vehemently against it were leading lawyers. They have looked at the government's bill and absolutely taken it apart, piece by piece. The minister, as much as I like the member for Greenway, has had few defenders of her plan.

I've received a number of pieces of correspondence about this. Many of them have come from Parkes, in the northern part of my electorate. Liz Naveau says: 'Sorting fact from fiction is not always easy. What someone thinks is true might be what someone else thinks is false.' I actually said that in a press conference in Queensland once and got absolutely hammered about it, but I was right then and Liz is right here. She says: 'We need debate and the free flow of information to consider ideas and arrive at the truth. Censoring debate stops this vital process.'

From the same household, Neil Naveau says, 'I'm an Australian, born and bred.' He loves his country and that he's free. He says, 'The bill is another attempt to silence truth and turn this country into a controlled one.' He describes the misinformation bill as 'wrong-headed and dangerous'.

Darren Stevenson, also from Parkes, says: 'Mis- and disinformation shows division within the community, undermines trust and can threaten public health and safety. The Albanese government is committed to keeping Australians safe online'—that is important. I know the work that the member for Forrest has done in this regard, but I digress. He says, 'That includes ensuring that the Australian Communications and Media Authority has the powers it needs to hold digital platforms to account for mis- and disinformation on their services.' He says that what this bill is proposing to do is dangerous. He says, 'There is no trust in the Albanese government with the ridiculous and hurtful policies that the Prime Minister and his government are implementing and dictating onto the Australian public.'

There is widespread concern right across the nation about this bill. That is why the member for Banks has brought it forward. It does stifle academic debate. How can any one authority claim it can determine and regulate the supposed objective truth of science or morality? Meta, Twitter or X is concerned the bill goes too far, stifling free speech. If ever you want to see an example of free speech, go on Twitter—go on live feed to the sorts of things that people say on Twitter or on X. I don't usually block them unless they actually make comments about military ceremonies or people I have eulogised because they have passed away. Anything else I generally let go because I do believe in free speech. True liberty is when free-born men, having the right to advise the public, may speak free. Milton said that many, many, many years ago. It was as true then as it is true now. The best way to defeat bad ideas or bad speech is with free and fair debate, allowing better ideas to come forward.

Overbearing regulation of speech encourages scepticism—it just simply does—and distrust of authority. If there's one thing that we need from this place now, it is for people to believe in this institution and believe in the people who are elected to this institution, both in the House of Representatives and through the states in the Senate, to have that discourse of information. There are many people in this place who I don't agree with, but we don't silence them. We allow free debate to flow. The truth should not fear debate. Concerns that any opposition to policy will simply be labelled misinformation is something very right and very true in this debate. I commend what the member for Banks has done in this regard.


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