Senator Claire Chandler says anti-discrimination laws infringe free speech

Liberal Senator Claire Chandler says she’s puzzled that Tasmanian Anti-Discrimination Commission has warned her and her supporters that it’s an offence to hinder or offend their officers while they are conducting their investigations.

The Tasmanian Senator has been asked to appear before the state’s Anti-Discrimination body after it received a complaint regarding an opinion piece the senator wrote for a local newspaper. In the publication Senator Chandler shared her views regarding transgender women’s access to sport, change rooms and public bathrooms.

Since announcing she has been asked to appear before the Commission, the senator has spoken widely about her view that the threshold for Tasmania’s anti-discrimination legislation to take effect is too low, and the laws need to be changed. She has also been backed by other federal Liberal members and anti-transgender advocacy groups.

Appearing on the Sky News program The Bolt Report Senator Chandler outlined that she had received further communication from the commission noting that it was an offence to interfere with their investigations.

“Last week I received an email from the Anti-Discrimination Commission in which they drew my attention to a section of the Anti-Discrimination Act that specifies that it is unlawful to offend someone undertaking the work of the commission during an investigation, and attached to this email was examples of correspondence that the commission had received from people right across Australia who are rightly concerned about the process I am being subjected to and the broader impact this process has on free speech,” Senator Chandler said.

“So what we have is – not only can this commission drag me to a conciliation on the basis that I might have offended someone, they are now also saying that nobody else is allowed to criticise their processes.”

Senator Chandler denied that she had encouraged anyone to contact the commission over the complaint against her.

“I have not been encouraging anyone to contact the commission, they’ve been doing that off their own back, but what I am really worried about is the precedent that this sets for every Australian to think that they are not only not able to speak their mind, but that they’re not able to criticise in a dignified and respectful way a process undertaken by a bureaucracy. Isn’t that a fundamental tenet of our democracy that we can openly discuss government and the way that it operates?” Senator Chandler said.

Senator Chandler said the provision in the act that stopped criticism of the commission’s work was an infringement upon the free speech of people who agreed with her views, and supported her stance the complaint against her should be rejected.

Highlighting the case of Tasmanian Archbishop Julian Porteous, who faced a complaint under the same legislation during the debate over marriage equality, Senator Chandler said there were countless cases of people being “dragged through these processes” and it was making people fear speaking out on issues and undermining democracy.

Host Andrew Bolt said Senator Chandler had probably broken the law by sharing her thoughts on the anti-discrimination laws by appearing on the program, to which the senator responded “I won’t be backing down.”

Over the weekend Senator Chandler told The Australian that she would not rule out making a complaint to the Senate Privileges Committee alleging the the action from the Anti-discrimination commission was interfering with her work as a member of parliament.

“The clear implication here is that they don’t only want me to stop speaking about this issue more broadly, they also want me to tell other Australians to do the same,” Senator Chandler said.

“I’m simply not going to do that. There are genuine concerns at play here around my ability to undertake my role as a member of parliament and be able to discuss public policy issues with constituents.

“Even more so, there’s a concern that constituents are not going to be able to contact their MPs inquiring as to their views and expect an honest response.”

Anti-transgender organisation Binary voice their support for Senator Chandler

Senator Chandler’s stance against the discrimination body has gained the support of anti-transgender organisation Binary. Spokesperson Kirralie Smith said the Tasmanian laws were too vague.

“The fact that unelected bureaucrats can make these demands of an elected senator is beyond comprehension.” Smith said.

“How on earth can something as vague and subjective as the term ‘insult’ be measured or defined? Who determines who has a right to be supposedly insulted and who doesn’t? This is an attempt to shut down fact speech in case somebody’s feelings get hurt. It is unreasonable and unacceptable.”

Smith said the staff at Equal Opportunity Tasmania appeared to be “hellbent” on silencing opposing views.

“These unelected bureaucrats at Equal Opportunity Tasmania appear to be hell bent on silencing views that they cannot defend with logic or reason. Hurt feelings seem to be all they care about, even though such feelings cannot be measured or defined. It also seems that Chandler’s feelings, and those of the people she represents, are not considered in the equation.”

Equality Tasmania invite Senator Chandler to meet transgender Tasmanians

LGBTI rights group Equality Tasmania commented on the case last week saying that while Senator Chandler had a right to free speech, she also had a responsibility to share her views in a way that did not cause harm to other people. The local LGBTI rights group have invited the politician to meet transgender Tasmanians face to face.

“We want Senator Chandler to hear what life is really like for Tasmania’s trans and gender diverse young people and their families, including their desire to be accepted just like everyone else, and how negative stereotypes and misinformation can cause deep harm.” Dr Charlie Burton from Equality Tasmania said. “That’s why we have invited Senator Chandler to meet and hear from these young Tasmanians and their families.”

“With every right, including free speech, comes a responsibility not to exercise that right in a way that harms others.”

“We are pleased Tasmania has a strong independent umpire, like the Anti-Discrimination Commission, to judge where the balance should lie.”

“Tasmania’s law against humiliating and intimidating language has been upheld by State Parliament twice which indicates it has widespread community support.”

“The Australian High Court has found free speech has to be balanced with other rights, and the Tasmanian Supreme Court has found that our state law against intimidating and humiliating language does not violate free speech.” Dr Burton said.

OIP Staff

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