Matt McCarten on hate speech laws

Matt McCarten writes:

When a government decides to stop citizens saying what they think, it never ends well for democracy.

Our government wants to make “hate speech” punishable by up to three years in prison. Interestingly, a thug who assaults someone with the intention of causing them physical harm gets the same sentence. Common assault gets a maximum of 12 months. How does that make any sense?

It doesn’t.

How will we make sure that only the worst of the worst speech is captured by these changes? There’s a lot riding on how it’ll be defined. But no matter how precise the definition and how high the bar, it will be a judgment call. 

And guess who’ll be making those judgment calls in the first instance? The cops. They’ll be deciding who gets arrested. Bloody hell. When even our own justice minister and prime minister have struggled to clearly spell out where the lines should be drawn, how are police supposed to get it right?

As someone who’s been detained and arrested by police for holding union actions, I have no confidence in letting any state’s uniformed enforcement officers make those decisions. 

The evidence from the UK is that having Police decide what speech does and doesn’t break the law is a terrible idea.

For example, a protest group attacking the Catholic Church for deliberately harbouring paedophiles. Are they talking hate? What about the Catholic Church saying that women having abortions are wicked and going to hell? Talking hate? 

You see what I mean. The proposed solution is far worse than the problem. Do we really feel we have to be protected from someone espousing nonsense or even venom? 

When the state thinks it needs to decide what ideas can be said or heard, it’s inevitably used to suppress voices that the powerful don’t want us to hear.

On this, I agree with Matt.

Anyone with knowledge of history knows that suppression laws will eventually be used by the powerful against the weak. Free speech is not a left versus right debate. It’s about protecting democracy and civil society.

We’ve been warned.

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