Federal Member For Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications

Human Rights Commissioner Slams Labor’s Misinformation Bill, HRC Releases Its Own Submission After Government Go-Slow On Publication

The Human Rights Commissioner has today become the latest critic of Labor’s deeply flawed Misinformation plan.

Commissioner Lorraine Finlay has published her submission ahead of the Government, and has also written a powerful opinion piece in The Australian setting out her concerns with the Labor’s proposed Bill.

Public submissions on the draft Bill closed on Sunday but the Government has delayed publishing them until September, raising serious transparency questions around Labor’s plan.

The HRC Commissioner has taken the draft Bill apart, setting out four major criticisms of the Bill.

Ms Finlay highlights that authorised government content is excluded from being deemed as misinformation. She says “this fails to acknowledge the reality that misinformation and disinformation can come from government” and the result would be that:

“…government content can never be misinformation but content critical of the government produced by political opponents might be.”

The Commissioner says the “overly broad and vague” definitions of terms such as “misinformation” and “harm”:

“…risk enabling unpopular or controversial opinions or beliefs to be subjectively labelled as misinformation or disinformation, and censored as a result.”

Ms Finlay says the low threshold on what constitutes “harm” is also a concern, noting the Bill requires content to not actually cause harm, but to only be “reasonably likely to cause or contribute to serious harm.”

She says that “Reasonable people may have very different views about what constitutes harm” and that the harm threshold under the Bill is so low, it “risks allowing an extremely broad range of content potentially to be restricted.”

The Human Rights Commissioner also warns there are “inherent dangers” in giving the power to decide what is misinformation to one body. The risk here, she says, is that:

“… efforts to combat misinformation and disinformation could be used to legitimise attempts to restrict public debate and censor unpopular opinions.”

Mr Coleman said the Human Rights Commission is absolutely right to identify that this Bill would restrict freedom of expression in Australia.

‘Australians are entitled to have different views, and the last thing we want is for the Government to decide what is and is not an acceptable opinion,” Mr Coleman said.

“As the Human Rights Commission submission has highlighted, the Bill would allow people to be targeted based on their opinions. This is completely unacceptable in a democratic nation.

“Today’s intervention follows similar criticism of the Government Bill by the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, and so we are now seeing both union and human rights leaders criticising the Government’s plan.”

The Hon. David Coleman MP
Federal Member for Banks
Shadow Minister for Communications