Freedom of Speech

Free speech is a foundational political, social and cultural concept for Australian society. However, it may come as a surprise that for a country that so highly values being able to speak its mind openly, this foundational right is very poorly protected at law.

More than this, the rapid advance of speech-supressing laws in Australia like vilification and conversion-therapy laws are destroying what little protections existed mostly by cultural convention and tradition.



Here are some general answers to common questions about freedom of speech in Australia.

Australia is a modern Western democracy, I can say whatever I want, to whomever I want, whenever I want…Can’t I?

Great question. Australia has inherited a political and legal system in the Westminster tradition from the United Kingdom. Free speech and the sanctity of free expression is something that has always been taken for granted in our society. This has resulted in a political, social and cultural presumption that our speech is free. However, there is very little in Australian law that actually protects free speech. There are an increasing amount of laws that put limits on speech, the presumption being that within those limits speech is free – but there are very few positive legal protections of free speech in Australia.

Australia has different laws in different states and territories and at the federal level. However, in general there are two kinds of laws that you should be aware of that impact free speech. Defamation laws and vilification laws. Defamation claims concern the publication of statements that damage an individual’s reputation and vilification claims are about the public incitement of hatred and ridicule for someone else on specific grounds, such as race or gender. Both of these kinds of claim affect what you can say about other people. You should always be careful in the way that you express yourself publicly and online. If you ever face one of these claims you should seek legal advice from a legal professional.


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