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Tasmanian Discrimination Amendment Proposal Slammed

Will it give a green light to hate speech?

26/08/2016 9:39 AM AEST | Updated 26/08/2016 11:57 AM AEST
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People march in Sydney in 2015 to call on the government to allow a free vote on Marriage Equality.

Tasmanian gay rights groups have criticised a proposal to amend the state's hate speech laws to allow religious groups more 'freedom' to speak out about marriage equality in the lead up to a plebiscite on the issue.

The government of Tasmania on Thursday released a draft of its proposed amendments to the Anti-Discrimination Act 1998, which Attorney-General Vanessa Goodwin said will allow "Tasmanians to express their views reasonably and in accordance with their beliefs."

The government wants to amend section 55 for one year to provides an exception from other parts of the Act for "religious purpose" to include but not be limited to "conveying, teaching or proselytising a religious belief".

The Government is either so zealous or so incompetent that it has gone even further than conservative religious figures have called for, and has watered down all the hate protections in the Anti-Discrimination Act.

Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group spokesman Rodney Croome said it will give the green light to hate speech not seen the state for almost twenty years.

"This bill will take Tasmania back to the dark times before homosexuality was decriminalised in the 1990s when the most degrading and disgusting things were said publicly about LGBTI people with impunity," Croome said in a statement.

"With this proposal we risk again being labelled 'Bigot's Island' just as we were in the 1990s when we were the last Australian state to decriminalise homosexuality."

The Bill also seeks to heighten the threshold for acceptance of a complaint under the Act. The government has proposed changes various provisions in the Act to require the rejection or dismissal of a complaint in certain, specified circumstances.

The proposed changes seek to strike the right balance between providing protection from discrimination and unlawful conduct, while still allowing for genuine public debate and discussion on important issues.

The government's proposal has drawn fire from conservative groups.

The Catholic Archbishop of Tasmania, Julian Porteous, wrote in The Mercury the church does "not support any exemption for 'religious purposes' from hate speech".

In mid-August the Australian Christian Lobby's Mark Brown welcomed the Government's plans to amend the Act, but said it did could go further.

The ABC reports the lobby said sections of the act relating to causing offence needed to be totally removed before the planned plebiscite.

Tasmania's Anti-Discrimination Commissioner, Robin Banks, said she was disappointed she was not consulted before detail of the planned amendments were made public.

"The lack of consultation up to this point on this issue is disappointing because, certainly, I would have liked to understood what was being proposed," she said.

How is it that Australians will be compelled to vote in a plebiscite, which Mr Turnbull's backbench will not be compelled to accept?

Marriage equality groups around the country have been expressing dismay at the government's proposed plebiscite, arguing it will stir up hate speech in the lead up to a vote that will be non-binding.

Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays on Thursday released an ad to highlight that politicians can ignore plebiscite result, and to take a swing at the vote's $160 million price tag.

In early August the Tasmanian upper house passed a motion in support of marriage equality, a year after the the lower house passed the vote, making it the first parliament in the country to unite on the issue.

The issue is particularly sensitive in Tasmania, which in 1997 decriminalised homosexuality after intense debate, 22 years after South Australia became the first state to do so.

"I was the age when I should have been learning how to be vulnerable, how to handle a broken heart, how to deal with rejection and how to deal with all the other great silly things about young love which help pave the way to the more substantial adult version," she said.

"Instead I learnt how to close myself off and rot quietly in self-hatred. I learnt this because I learnt that I was subhuman during a debate where only the most horrible voices and ideas were amplified by the media."

Labor leader Bill Shorten on Thursday toughened his stance against the plebiscite.

"I don't want to let the government off the hook on that," he said.

"How is it that Australians will be compelled to vote in a plebiscite, which Mr Turnbull's backbench will not be compelled to accept?"

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