The Victorian chapter of Pirate Party Australia has had enough of Premier Ted Baillieu’s attacks on free speech.
In June of this year, the Premier gave the police powers to issue on-the-spot fines of over $200 for indecent or offensive language.
Now the Premier has announced plans to amend the Gaming Regulation Act to penalise those who are exercising their constitutional rights to criticise politicians and their policies.
The amendment criminalises acts that “assault, obstruct, hinder, threaten, abuse, insult or intimidate” the gaming minister or his agents when carrying out their duties. Assault, threats, intimidation and abuse are likely already criminalised under other legislation, depending on the context, but criminalisation of obstructing or hindering a politician in effect outlaws civil disobedience.
Prohibiting the insulting of a minister is a fully-fledged assault on freedom of speech. Section 15 of Victoria’s Human Rights Charter does not provide exceptions to freedom of speech on the grounds that a person may feel insulted. It would also be a very far stretch to say that words of political criticism would somehow compromise “national security, public order, public health or public morality.”
Even if the minister’s spokesperson – Emily Broadbent – is to be believed that the amendment is only to protect “officers of the gambling regulator from bullying or intimidation when exercising powers at the direction of the Minister for Gaming,” then a far more narrowly-crafted amendment should be tabled that deals with the specific harassment that the government is trying to address, rather than something so broad that clearly has civil liberties implications.
The High Court has held that Australians have an implied right to freedom of speech with regard to anything that could impact how people vote in an election. This includes all directly political expression. While the argument could be made that this is a state issue, beyond the scope of federal jurisdiction, the nation-spanning nature of our political parties means that this argument would not be supported in court.
Victorian Pirate Party crew member David Crafti said “frankly, I’d never even heard of the Minister by name, and I have never involved myself in anything he has done, but you can bet that I’ll be testing the waters if this amendment passes. I’ll be calling him a fascist for casting his vote in favour of violating my right to freedom of expression.”