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Aly’s self-wedge on figures of speech

By Tim Wilson - posted Wednesday, 5 April 2017

By inadvertently calling for a ­national anti-blasphemy law, Labor's Anne Aly has exposed the hollowness of her party's opposition to constructive reform of section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.

The member for Cowan told The Australian earlier this week that there was scope to reassess ­extending 18C-style protections to make it unlawful to offend someone on the basis of religion.

In making her point, Aly said she didn't understand why "someone can call you a dirty Arab and that be covered under the bill, but if they call you a dirty Muslim, you're not covered".


Aly's position is consistent with Australia's Grand Mufti, who proffered the same proposal earlier this year.

No one is disputing that people should be free from harassment. But if 18C is extended to make it unlawful to offend religion it would amount to a national anti-blasphemy law.

Such a law would make it ­almost impossible to discuss ­religion, particularly with the current interpretation of the act.

Court cases have interpreted whether someone is offended under 18C is based on the attitudes of the targeted community.

So in the case offered by Aly, whether an expression offends Muslims would be based on the attitudes of Muslims and would lead to people being hauled before the Australian Human Rights Commission, and possibly the Federal Court.

Of course, the law wouldn't just censor offensive debate about Islam, but all religions.


The regular catchcry from ­defenders of the law is that section 18D protects free speech by permitting expressions that are made "reasonably and in good faith".

The argument has always been fallacious.

Take the satirical Broadway play The Book of Mormon.

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This article was first published in The Australian.

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About the Author

Tim Wilson is the federal Liberal member for Goldstein and a former human rights commissioner.

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