Workplace banter could soon be a thing of the past if draft legislation currently before a senate inquiry is passed – and the proposal has sparked outrage among Australia’s top legal minds.
If taken before a court, the arbitrator would then apply “a subjective test based on the feelings or reaction of the person aggrieved”. “The application of this test may result in liability for conduct that falls outside the scope of conduct that has previously been considered as the appropriate domain of discrimination law.”
Off-limits topics of conversation could include age, sexual orientation, immigrant status, marital or relationship status, nationality or citizenship, political opinion, pregnancy, religion and social origin.
The bill has been criticised by high-profile thought leaders including former NSW chief judge Jim Spigelman, who said such a law would set Australia apart from other liberal democracies. “The freedom to offend is an integral component of freedom of speech. There is no right not to be offended,” Spigelman told The Australian.
The Law Council recommends the government delete the provision or replace it with more lenient language used in state and territory laws.
Attorney-General Nicola Roxon has not publicly commented on individual submissions, but a spokeswoman said: “The main objective of this project is to simplify and consolidate many laws into one. If the Senate inquiry identifies the drafting goes well beyond this, the government will closely consider the recommendations.”