Hate speech, free speech and human rights in Australia

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Hate speech is speech or expression which is capable of instilling or inciting hatred of, or prejudice towards, a person or group of people on a specified ground. Hate speech laws are usually directed to vilification on the grounds of race, nationality, ethnicity, country of origin, ethno-religious identity, religion or sexuality.

A worldwide consensus has emerged that hate speech poses an important human rights problem. Hate speech is now prohibited in international law (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Article 19; International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, Article 4). This comparatively recent development is also reflected in domestic legal systems that have devised a range of legal responses to the problem including constitutional prohibitions and criminal penalties.

The Australian legal response to hate speech is unusual. The Australian constitutional context is unique because, alone among modern western democracies, Australia lacks a national bill of rights. In its place a complex and varied legislative and administrative regime has developed. Most Australian jurisdictions provide for civil rather than criminal remedies and these are often implemented, in the first instance at least, by administrative bodies rather than courts. These laws exist in most states and federally in the Racial Hatred Act 1995 (Cth). A recent addition to the legal environment is the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 (Australia’s first bill of rights), a measure that is currently under consideration in Victoria and Western Australia.

The objective of this workshop is to discuss cutting edge research in the field of hate speech regulation in Australia.

This workshop will bring together established and emerging scholars from a number of legal disciplines (including constitutional, international, anti-discrimination and criminal law), political theory, and empirical political science.

The objective of the workshop is to establish an interdisciplinary network amongst Australian scholars (who have never before had an opportunity to meet together to discuss their research synergies) that will support the future development of other research projects in this field.

The research aims of the workshop are:

  • to update participants on the rapidly changing legislative environment and on new and important cases;
  • to investigate and normatively assess the distinctive mechanisms for enforcement found in Australian law and the unique constitutional environment in which they operate;
  • to assess by a comparative investigation the contrasting approaches to hate speech regulation in Australian jurisdictions;
  • to discuss and develop sophisticated research ideas in relation to specific cutting-edge issues in the field.

Event Schedule

Contact Information

Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia

    ABN: 59 957 839 703
  • Location: 26 Balmain Crescent, Acton, ACT 2601
  • Postal: GPO Box 1956, Canberra, ACT 2601
  • +61 .2 62491788
  • +61 .2 62474335
  • secretariat@assa.edu.au

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