Over the past two years, the Government has been very clear that it was going through a process of simplifying and consolidating Australia’s anti discrimination laws. The intention has been made clear at all times – to simplify and consolidate – rather than to expand the reach of anti-discrimination law.
The consolidation of multiple pieces of legislation and court decisions on that legislation is a complex process, and the Government has been careful to consult at every stage. The Government was clear that if during the consultation process it identified changes that need to be made, then it will do so. That’s why it’s called a draft.
It has never been the Government’s intention to restrict free speech. The wording of paragraph 19(2)(b) of the draft Bill sought to consolidate into legislation the decisions and precedents of the courts – that discrimination includes harassment. It was not an attempt to extend the laws to new areas.
The former Attorney-General recognised concerns around the potential effect on free speech of certain provisions in the draft bill, and asked the Attorney-General’s department to develop alternative drafting for these provisions. These alternatives included removal of s19(2)(b), and were presented to the Senate Committee by the department.
The Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquiry into the draft law was a very important part of the consultation process and the Government has welcomed its report.
The two recommendations made by the Senate committee did not form part of the Government's original consultation draft Bill.
A full response to the report will be made shortly by the Attorney-General.