Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 23 June 2021) . . Page.. 1931 ..
for defamation; fourthly, a public interest defence modelled on UK law, as well as a defence with respect to the publication of certain scientific or academic matter; and lastly, clarification of other elements of the administration of defamation proceedings.
It is worth noting that the scrutiny of bills committee pointed out that the bill will increase the level of harm required in an action for defamation, which has the potential to limit the protection of reputation provided in section 12 of the Human Rights Act 2004. I look forward to the Attorney-General’s assurances on this issue. The government should ensure that it identifies any contradictions between commonwealth law or state harmonisation efforts and ACT legislation and endeavours to eliminate or minimise them, respectively. I affirm the Canberra Liberal’s support for this harmonisation bill.
MS CHEYNE (Ginninderra—Assistant Minister for Economic Development, Minister for the Arts, Minister for Business and Better Regulation, Minister for Human Rights and Minister for Multicultural Affairs) (11.30): I am pleased to speak in support of the Civil Law (Wrongs) Amendment Bill 2021. As Minister for Human Rights, I take this opportunity to speak about the human rights aspects of the bill. We have seen several high-profile defamation cases in recent weeks, some making headlines almost daily. These cases show the tension between one person’s right to freedom of expression and another person’s right not to have their reputation unlawfully attacked. Both of these important rights are protected by the ACT’s Human Rights Act, and both of them are engaged by this bill.
Not only are these rights important for the benefit of individuals but they are also rights that we value for the benefit of society. For example, it is a fundamental tenet of a democratic society that people are able to express ideas and opinions, including about matters in the public interest, without unreasonable limitations being imposed. Likewise, in a society where our lives are increasingly conducted in public—virtual domains—we value the protections provided in law that prohibit attacks on someone’s privacy and reputation.
The Human Rights Act recognises that rights may be subject to limitations. In some cases, an individual’s rights may need to be weighed against the rights of another. With that in mind, in promoting the right to freedom of expression, the current bill ensures that opinions and views can be more freely expressed, while still imposing the reasonable limits on the circumstances of publication of material that may adversely affect a person’s reputation. Publication of material that may adversely affect a person’s reputation is permitted in some circumstances under defamation law.
In this bill, one of the most important reforms is to broaden the range of permissible circumstances in which publication is on a matter of public interest and the benefits of the publication can justify the impact on a person’s reputation. The ability to publish matters in the public interest with the objective of facilitating discussion on matters of public importance is at the core of our system of democratic government.
In addition, the bill aims to prevent the use of defamation law for trivial matters by introducing a serious harm threshold for damage to a person’s reputation. The bill also