Hate Speech vs. Free Speech

The idea of free speech has always been highly valued in Australia society. Although, Australia has no Bill of Rights and until recently could not be said to have any constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of speech, the principle of free speech existed as a ‘silent principle’ of common law, albeit at the mercy of parliamentary sovereignty. Recent decisions of the High Court have found a constitutionally implied right to freedom of speech at least in the area of political and public affairs. The scope of this new implied right and the common law principle is not clear, and consequently much debate surrounded the introduction of the Commonwealth racial hatred legislation in 1995.

Australia has a variety of hate speech laws. The Racial Hatred Act is the only racial vilification law with national application. The states of New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory have also enacted racial vilification laws. The NSW Act is the oldest, having been enacted in 1989. The other Acts are more recent, having all been enacted in the 1990s.

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