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Australia’s Authoritarian “Misinformation” Bill Has Fewer Protections Against Self-Incrimination Than For Murderers or Arsonists

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The very foundations of free speech in Australia are under threat, warn legal experts, as the country considers adopting a chilling law that aims to tackle online “misinformation.” The proposed legislation could expose Australians, who are accused of disseminating misinformation on the web, to sometimes graver legal consequences than those suspected of severe criminal offenses, such as arson or even murder, the Daily Telegraph Australia reported.

Protection against self-incrimination is a key principle in Australian law, rooted in English common law traditions. It ensures individuals aren’t compelled to provide evidence or answer questions that might incriminate themselves in criminal proceedings. The Evidence Act and various regulatory statutes in Australia explicitly protect this right. However, there are exceptions, such as some regulatory contexts where individuals can be compelled to provide evidence, though with safeguards like “use immunity” to prevent the evidence from being used against them in criminal proceedings. Australia’s High Court has emphasized the importance of this right, even as debates emerge regarding its balance with community safety concerns, especially in contexts like terrorism and organized crime.

A profound concern among critics is the expansive power the draft bill confers upon government media regulators. They would wield the authority to summon anyone believed to have insights into the spread of “misinformation or disinformation.” Failing to appear when called would lead to hefty fines, escalating beyond $9,390 daily.

This development has stirred significant contention, as the bill seems to undermine the cherished “right to silence” principle, which shields Australians suspected of crimes.

Furthermore, the draft’s scope of what constitutes trigger-worthy content is alarmingly vast. It goes beyond just flagging hate speech, encompassing any content that could potentially jeopardize the health, economy, or even the democratic processes of Australia.

In contrast, Communications Minister Michelle Rowland defended the draft, assuring that everyday social media users wouldn’t be unfairly targeted. She emphasized the bill’s focus on digital platform operators, insisting its primary objective is to bolster the regulator’s data collection capabilities.

While the draft is still in its consultative phase, its critics hope that the government will consider the alarming feedback and re-evaluate its stance. As Australia stands on the brink of possibly redefining its online freedoms, the world watches closely.

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