Monday, 11 September 2023
Private Members' Business
Freedom of Speech
There's no doubt that misinformation and disinformation is a significant risk to our democracy, and those on this side of the House have never said otherwise. As I have said recently, with the uptake of AI we are losing the ability to trust what we see and what we hear, and that's significant. But, just because this risk exists, it doesn't mean we are going to support a deeply flawed piece of legislation—so flawed that it has been opposed by almost everyone, from the Human Rights Commission; the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance; the Law Council of Australia; civil liberty groups; and everyday Australians in my electorate of Casey and many electorates across the country.
I've had many people contact my office concerned about the implications this bill will have on freedom of speech, democratic rights and individual thought. To those people I would say this: the Liberals will not be supporting this bill. Those of us on this side of the House believe in freedom of thought, worship, speech and association. We believe in a less government interference in our daily lives, not more.
This bill defines misinformation as 'a statement which is unintentionally false, misleading or deceptive'. Let's have a think about that for a second. How often do Australians make statements that they believe to be true but turn out to be false? We're not experts at everything but, under this definition, Australians will be held to account for statements they make being unintentionally wrong. Under this legislation, if the regulator ACMA thinks digital companies like Facebook and Instagram aren't doing enough to remove that sort of content and if they think it's capable of what the government calls 'serious harm', those digital companies can get fines worth $6.88 billion or five times their annual turnover. So what are the digital companies going to do? They're going to remove posts from their platforms to mitigate the risks of fines, tarnishing Australians' rights to freedom of speech.
Under Labor's plan, there will be one rule for Anthony Albanese and his government and another for everyone else. Information authorised by the government cannot be deemed misinformation. Criticisms of the government by Australians however can be deemed misinformation and therefore are at risk of being removed from public debate on digital platforms. And it doesn't end there. Nothing an academics says can be misinformation, but statements by somebody disagreeing with that academic can be misinformation. Good faith statements made by comedians and entertainers cannot be misinformation, but good faith statements made by Australians on political matters are misinformation. What we can potentially see is the Labor Party or future governments using the term 'misinformation' to try to silence those who do not share their political views, and this is a dangerous proposition in a free society.
Just last week in question time, we saw Minister Burke criticise and label an ad voicing opposition to Labor's industrial relations bill as 'misinformation'. Under this legislation Minister Burke could ban that ad. Anne Twomey, a constitutional expert, in the Australian today, said:
I mean there is a serious risk that in combating misinformation and disinformation we seriously undermine freedom of speech, which is a pillar of that system of democracy that we're trying to defend. … we might actually make the situation even worse than the problem that we're trying to cure.
And the Human Rights Commissioner, Lorraine Finlay, has published a powerful submission to the government on this legislation, saying the bill risks 'enabling unpopular or controversial opinions or beliefs to be subjectively labelled as misinformation or disinformation and censored'.
As I said, we acknowledge the risk of misinformation and disinformation, but a deeply flawed bill has implications for free speech for our democratic society, and that is why this motion is so important. We've seen time and time again the risk in other countries. We can't allow that risk in our country.