Kelly Hazell Quill lawyers in politics: Sledging on the outer according to proposed anti-discrimination changes

by Phillip Hudson, Herald Sun, December 12, 2012:

“FOOTBALLERS sledging each other about injuries, a rude waiter serving a meal or someone at work criticising others for their political views could all be ruled as breaking the law under proposed anti-discrimination changes.

ABC chairman and former NSW Chief Justice Jim Spigelman blasted the changes floated by the Federal Government that would make it unlawful to “offend” someone, as a risk to freedom of speech.

Shadow attorney-general George Brandis said the Bill was a “monstrosity” that would create a finger-pointing society reaching to almost every corner of life.

Kelly Hazell Quill lawyer John-Paul Cashen said the proposal was so far-reaching it could create perverse results catching everyday behaviour such as:

A FOOTBALLER sledging another player about their medical history by saying “you’re useless with your pathetic injured shoulders”.

TELLING office colleagues “anyone who voted for John Howard is an idiot”.

A WAITER making a joke about a person’s age, saying “here you go, grandpa” when serving a meal.

CRITICISING a co-worker for going home to look after their kids instead of drinking at the Christmas party.

Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said consolidating the five federal anti-discrimination laws into one Act would create a “clearer and simpler” system for individuals, businesses and organisations.

A spokeswoman for Ms Roxon said the Government wanted to strike the “right balance of rights and freedoms” and was consulting widely and wanted to receive important feedback, which “will be closely considered”.

The draft Bill creates a single definition of discrimination as “unfavourable treatment” and would raise all anti-discrimination laws to the level set under the Sex Discrimination Act that covers behaviour that “offended” other people.

Mr Spigelman said using the term “offended” would impose unprecedented restrictions.

“We would be pretty much on our own in declaring conduct which does no more than offend to be unlawful. The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech,” he said.

“There is no right not to be offended.”

Senator Brandis said it was “the nanny-state on stilts”.

“The draft discrimination bill is a monstrosity. It seeks to apply, with a reverse onus of proof, restrictions on freedom of speech and conduct on every corner of social, workplace and recreational activities on the basis of such a wide variety of protected grounds that almost any conduct could, if complained about, be found to be unlawful.”

He said it could include almost any behaviour outside the family circle.

“You’d create a finger-pointing society in which almost anyone can be the subject of a complaint by anyone else and they then have the burden thrown on them to prove they didn’t do the wrong thing.”