The Albanese Government’s proposed hate speech bill and its push for a Human Rights Act are big threats to the freedoms of speech and religion in Australia.

While these legislative measures are dressed up as protecting vulnerable groups, their effect will be to destroy freedoms that underpin our democratic society.

Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has announced that the government is committed to “promoting and supporting respect, acceptance, and understanding across the Australian community” through enhanced protections against hate speech.

The proposed bill seeks to introduce criminal penalties for vilification based on race, sexuality, gender, disability, or religion.

The escalation of “vilification”, a subjective term, to criminal status risks an even more serious impact on free speech.

Existing vilification and anti-discrimination laws already create significant vulnerabilities to freedom of speech.

These laws, meant to curb hate speech and protect vulnerable groups, have often been used to target individuals and organisations for expressing legitimate beliefs.

Family First National Director Lyle Shelton’s case is a prime example.

Shelton is embroiled in legal action under Queensland’s version of these laws for expressing his beliefs about the harm the example of sexualised and gender fluid drag queens pose to little children when allowed to conducted so-called drag queen story time events in public libraries.

Shelton’s case highlights how existing laws can be weaponised against individuals, stifling legitimate expression and debate.

Shelton noted that these laws can be “dangerous to freedom of speech” and could lead to a situation where people are afraid to voice their opinions for fear of legal repercussions.

The proposed reforms would only make a bad situation worse.

The introduction of new hate speech laws would further weaponise existing bad laws.

Instead of broadening the scope of anti-vilification laws, the government should focus on enforcing existing laws, which already make it illegal to incite violence.

As Opposition Leader Peter Dutton has pointed out, the real issue lies in the lack of enforcement of current laws.

If the existing criminal laws are not fit for purpose, they should be updated, not replaced with broader, more restrictive measures based on subjective criteria like “offense” and “ridicule”.

Furthermore, Henry Pike MP, the Liberal National Party's deputy chair of the parliamentary committee on human rights, has raised valid concerns about the proposed Human Rights Act.

He warns that it could “weaken our parliamentary democracy and politicise our judiciary.”

Pike draws a parallel with the United States Bill of Rights and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man, noting that such documents did not prevent significant human rights abuses such as slavery and the Reign of Terror.

He argues that Australia’s robust parliamentary democracy is the best institution to defend human rights and balance competing rights through legislation, rather than relying on judicial interpretations that could undermine democratic processes.

Pike also points out that the proposed Human Rights Act could devalue internationally recognized protections for the freedoms of thought, conscience, religion, and belief. According to Pike, preference has been given to non-discrimination protections over individual freedoms, which are regarded as absolute under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).

This shift could serve as a “Trojan horse for social agendas” that might not otherwise gain political traction.

Family First shares this concern.

The push for these laws comes in a context of heightened sensitivity around issues of antisemitism and Islamophobia, exacerbated by global events and local protests. However, as Katharine Gelber, a politics professor, suggests, there is significant confusion about what constitutes hate speech, and any law would need to be “narrowly drawn and carefully drawn” to be effective without infringing on free speech.

It is essential to ask: How can new laws help when existing laws have made no difference to the Muslim hate preachers spewing antisemitism and advocating violent Jihad, as reported on the Family First website?

The government’s focus should be on enforcing the laws that already exist, ensuring that they are applied effectively and fairly, rather than introducing new legislation that could further restrict freedoms.

Family First is deeply committed to protecting the freedoms of speech and religion for all Australians.

Family First believes that any efforts to combat hate speech must be balanced with the need to protect these fundamental freedoms.