Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 07 Hansard (Wednesday, 23 June 2021) . . Page.. 1933 ..
matter of public interest; introduces a new defence for peer-reviewed statements and assessments in scientific journals; and introduces a serious harm threshold to require plaintiffs to establish that a publication caused or is likely to cause serious harm to their reputation.
Members may be wondering what this has to do with my ministerial responsibilities. Allow me to enlighten you. The new public interest and scientific journal defences allow environmental activists to stand up and speak out without fear for the voiceless—that is, our natural environment, which is constantly under threat in this country for the profits of mining and big corporations. Destruction of habitat for endangered species and potential contamination of scarce water sources are some examples of things which could be considered matters of public interest.
A derivative of this new defence is that environmentalists can feel safer that they will not be threatened with defamation cases when protesting. Ordinary citizens have the right to be angry at some of the decisions made by our politicians, especially relating to some of those being made by politicians on the bigger hill just over the bridge. Some of these decisions are causing real environmental and social harm, and they need a powerful, safe and legal voice for that anger.
Often in this country, defamation laws are used as an explicit tactic by the powerful to silence the powerless. When people are brave enough to speak truth to power, they are threatened with expensive and long legal battles. These changes to defamation laws will further protect activists by introducing a serious harm threshold that requires the person bringing the legal action to establish that a publication has caused serious harm to their reputation—that is, not trivial or inconsequential harm. It is usually trivial harm where defamation is used by the powerful to silence those with less power than them. For those reasons, I commend this bill.
MR GENTLEMAN (Brindabella—Manager of Government Business, Minister for Corrections, Minister for Industrial Relations and Workplace Safety, Minister for Planning and Land Management and Minister for Police and Emergency Services) (11.38): I am pleased to support the Civil Law (Wrongs) Amendment Bill. The legislation supports the modernisation and harmonisation of defamation laws by enacting the model defamation amendment provisions, or MDAPs, in the ACT. The model defamation provisions were implemented across the country in 2005 to provide a uniform regulatory regime for defamation actions in Australia.
As members are well aware, the way that information is published and transmitted has changed significantly since this time, particularly with the growth of digital publications and the rise of social media and other online forums for communication. In 2018 the defamation working party, made up of representatives from all jurisdictions, reconvened to review how the model provisions were operating in practice and to make recommendations on reform to those provisions. The subsequent amendment provisions being introduced by this bill implement the findings of this review after a process of extensive consultation with the community and interested stakeholders.