Lawyers attack plans for racial legislation
SPEAKERS at the Labor Lawyers conference in Perth have spoken out against the Federal Government's planned legislation to outlaw racial vilification and incitement to racial hatred.
Melbourne University associate law professor Laurence Maher said the best way to tackle prejudice and bigotry was by more speech, not more silencing.
Professor Anthony Lewis, a law professor at Columbia University linked to the conference by telephone from New York, said such a law would unquestionably be unconstitutional in the US today.
"Our courts would say the state had no business judging the content of political speech, no matter how vile, how extreme," he said.
Professor Matter said the Australian High Court's 1992 ruling that the Constitution contained an implied freedom of speech on political matters was an encouraging development. It should provide an analytical focus for testing proposed legislation that would limit free speech.
"The free speech cases have occurred at. a time when there is renewed enthusiasm for censorship.
"Interestingly, much of the impetus for the new censorship movement comes from the left of the political spectrum."
Professor Maher said the new censorship movement had made progress by securing the passage of laws aimed at punishing the dissemination of information or the expression of opinions that were seen as reinforcing invidious distinctions based on race, sex, sexual preference, ethnicity and religion.
An example was the passing last year, with almost no parliamentary debate, of changes in the Migration Act that were then used to keep the controversial historian David Irving out of Australia.
The new law allowed the Immigration Minister to refuse a visa if he was satisfied a person was not of good character or would be likely to vilify a segment of the Australian community, incite discord, or represent a danger to the community by being liable to become involved in disruptive activities or violence or in any other way.
Professor Maher said the legislation should be very specific so an entry permit could be denied only when the visitor presented a real risk of infringing Australian law in a serious way, or of fomenting serious public disorder, or of creating a situation that law enforcement authorities could not man-age. -- AAP
September 19, 1994
... The 1993 Migration Act was passed "to keep the controversial historian David Irving out of Australia."
© Focal Point 1998 write to David Irving