Australia is a nation that has no explicit Constitutional right to free speech, only an implied freedom to political communication. Consequently, we have laws restricting free speech at the Federal, State and Territory.

At the Federal level, there is the Racial Discrimination Act and Section 474.17 of the Federal Criminal Code which makes it illegal to use a carriage service to menace, harass or cause offence. The Morrison Government had proposed a Religious Discrimination Act and the Albanese Government has promised to legislate for it this term.

At the state level, every state has a law prohibiting racial vilification with Victoria, Queensland and Tasmania also having a law against religious vilification. Although people find racial and religious vilification abhorrent these laws have a broad definition of vilification which includes offends, insults, humiliates, intimidates, hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of a person or groups.


The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Prohibited Hate Symbols And Other Measures) Act came into effect on January 8 which bans nationwide including online the Nazi Swastika, double-sig rune and salute and the symbols of prohibited terrorist organisations. The only exemptions to these bans which carry a term of one-year imprisonment are for professional journalists, for artistic and educational purposes that are deemed in the public interest or if the symbol is displayed or a Nazi salute is made in opposition to Nazism or the terrorist organisation. The trading of Nazi memorabilia is also banned.

National Socialism cannot be banned outright for Constitutional reasons. The National Socialist Network the most prominent Nazi activist group in Australia isn’t a prohibited terrorist organisation which is why this special law banning Nazi symbols and the salute has been passed.

The legislation also contains a broad definition of violent extremist material which the viewing, possession or transmission of carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison. This definition includes material that describes or depicts serious violence; or provides instruction on engaging in serious violence; or supports or facilitates serious violence and a reasonable person would consider that the material is intended to directly or indirectly advance a political, religious or ideological cause; and intended to assist, encourage or induce a person to: engage in, plan or prepare for an intimidatory act; or do a thing that relates to engaging in, planning or preparing for an intimidatory act; or join or associate with an organisation that is directly engaged in the doing of any intimidatory act, or that is preparing, planning, assisting in or fostering the doing of any intimidatory act.

It is also ‘reasonable’ to consider the material together with other material; and were all of the material to be taken to be a single item of material, it would constitute violent extremist material.” The defences available are conducting scientific, medical, academic or historical research; and reports made by a professional journalist. So could an ordinary person be charged for reading a historical text to broaden their knowledge and understand a political ideology? All of this new legislation even covers memes shared online.

A decade ago the Liberal Party claimed it stood for free speech even speech that others found offensive. Historically it has been the Labor Party that has introduced anti-vilification laws. The Gillard Government proposed an all-encompassing Human Rights and Anti-Discrimination Bill which would have expanded vilification laws to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity even political opinion.

In Opposition, Tony Abbott promised to repeal 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act after Andrew Bolt was found to have breached the section over articles criticising light-skinned Aboriginals only identifying with their Aboriginal ancestry. However, it wasn’t until Malcolm Turnbull was Prime Minister that the Coalition attempted a legislative repeal of 18C which was defeated in the Senate. Then Attorney-General George Brandis told the Senate that people have the right to be bigots.

But fast forward to today and the Liberal Party under Peter Dutton doesn’t believe Australia’s hate speech and vilification laws do not go far enough and said that taxpayers’ should fund Jewish groups’ civil vilification cases. Shadow Attorney-General Michaelia Cash told the Senate that the new laws she called narrow should be reviewed by a preeminent member of the Jewish community to see if they need to be expanded.

The campaign to ban the public display of the Nazi swastika was started by the Victorian Liberal Opposition by its then Police spokesperson David Southwick. This began the process of every state introducing its own laws to ban the public display of Nazi symbols and gestures. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus initially did not want to include the salute in the federal legislation believing the state and territory laws were sufficient but yielded to Opposition Liberal pressure

The Victorian Labor Government has been working to expand the state’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to include LGBTIQ+ vilification to stop protests against drag queen storytime events.

In NSW Labor Attorney-General Michael Daley announced he would pass laws making it easier to prosecute people deemed to have intentionally or recklessly threaten or incite violence towards another person or group of people because of their race, religious belief or affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, or because that person is living with HIV/AIDS. This was after the Minns Government increased the civil penalty to $100,000 for inciting hatred or serious contempt or to severely ridicule a person or group in the above-protected categories.

The major parties are now on an anti-free speech unity ticket competing on who is the toughest against so-called hate speech. The Liberal Party has shedded its beliefs and principles in liberalism though some argue they never had any. These are dark times for free speech in Australia and we could be heading towards a speech police as the UK has become with police arresting people for memes, misgendering and other ‘offensive’ comments while violent criminals run rampant.

Author Details
Tim Wilms is the Founder and Editor in Chief of the Host of Tim’s News Explosion, the WilmsFront interview program and The Theorists with Andy Nolch. He based in Melbourne, Australia where he also conducts field reports.
Tim Wilms is the Founder and Editor in Chief of the Host of Tim’s News Explosion, the WilmsFront interview program and The Theorists with Andy Nolch. He based in Melbourne, Australia where he also conducts field reports.