Freedom of speech academic says WA needs civil anti-vilification laws

Katherine Gerber Freedom of Speech expert

LGBTI rights group just.equal Australia have backed the claim from University of Queensland freedom of speech expert, Professor Katharine Gelber, that the WA Government is taking the wrong approach to the Australian Christian Lobby (ACL).

Professor Gerber (pictured above) says the disagreement between the political lobby group and the state government is the result of badly worded policy, and the government should tackle the challenge with a legislative change.

The Perth Theatre Trust, a state entity, has refused permission for the ACL to use a range of venues for a speaking tour from the group’s leader Martyn Iles. Iles’ The Truth Of It Tour sees him being interviewed live on stage about his opinions of LGBTI rights, abortion, euthanasia and other social topics.

The Australian Christian Lobby has been accused of promoting an anti-LGBTI ideology, and voicing support for “conversion practices” in particular.

The Perth Theatre Trust has justified its knock back of the ACL by quoting its policy which allows the trust to reject hire requests if they are from political parties for electioneering purposes; are individuals or organisations “identifying with countries whose political status is unclear or in dispute”; or the keynote speaker is known to promote animosity towards particular groups.

Commenting in WA Today, Professor Gelber said what WA really needed was civil anti-vilifications laws.

“Other avenues need to be explored if the goal is to stop discrimination,” Professor Gelber said.

Professor Gelber said she could see what the trust was trying to do with its policy but it was the “wrong wording entirely” and the McGowan Government needed to beef-up laws in other areas to stop discrimination.

WA spokesperson for just.equal, Brian Greig, said Professor Gelber was correct.

“De-platforming is not the issue here and only plays into the hands of right-wing Christians looking to build a persecution narrative.

“The religious conservatives are trying to make the case for special ‘religious freedom rights’ by claiming that their faith is being discriminated against.

“Blocking them from state venues just plays into that trap, but it’s not the issue the McGowan Government should be addressing. The issue here is the harm caused by anti-LGBTI speech and the fact that it is allowed in WA.”

Anti-vilification laws have been in place in WA for over 30 years, but only cover race. The bar is set very high to breach the law.

“Other states have anti-vilification protections and laws against harmful speech that cover LGBTI’s, but WA has none,” Greig said.

The McGowan Government has refused to comment on the actions of the Perth Theatre Trust, which may now be subject to a discrimination complaint from the ACL.

Professor Gelber said the Perth Theatre Trust policy should allow them to prohibit hosting events contrary to anti-discrimination laws, which the ACL event would likely fall under.

“WA needs to develop civil anti-vilification laws, which currently only exist under a criminal standard,” she said.

OIP Staff

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