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Australia’s Draconian “Misinformation” Bill Threatens to Usher in Unprecedented Era of Illiberal Double Standards, Warns Victorian Bar

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The Australian Government’s tyrannical Communications Legislation Amendment (Combating Misinformation and Disinformation) Bill 2023 is facing formidable resistance from the Victorian Bar, as it sounds the alarm over a grave assault on freedom of speech and expression.

This Orwellian legislation, pushed by the communications minister since January, seeks to arm the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) with oppressive powers to tackle online “misinformation and disinformation.” Its draconian provisions include a mandate for the ACMA to hawkishly monitor progress in stifling online “misinformation” on various digital platforms, and enforce industry standards designed to muffle free speech under the guise of fighting disinformation.

The Victorian Bar has courageously voiced “serious objections” to this bill in a recent deposition to the Law Council of Australia. Their argument? The bill woefully neglects to respect the sanctity of free expression and associated privacy rights.

Victorian Bar president, Sam Hay KC, drove home the significance of this protest, underscoring the Bar’s trepidation about the invasive impact of the proposed bill on free speech and privacy. The Bar is particularly concerned about the threat to freedom of speech, calling it “the lifeblood of democracy.”

The Bar’s thorough critique continues, predicting a wave of self-censorship as users of online services retreat in fear of being branded as purveyors of misinformation. The bill’s very necessity is challenged, as it points out the effectiveness of recent countermeasures against the propagation of online falsehoods.

The Bar paints a grim picture of the bill’s proposed solution, arguing it could worsen the problem by alienating those already suspicious of the state and marginalized in small online communities. It cautions against a silencing approach and promotes persuasion and the dissemination of accurate information as a counter to misinformation.

They raise the issue of an “illiberal double standard,” potentially advantaging government supporters at the expense of critics. Moreover, the Bar criticizes the bill’s vague and impracticable definition of misinformation. While they say they recognize a need to counter harmful online information, the Victorian Bar takes a stand, asserting the proposed measures are disproportionately intrusive and likely ineffective against their intended targets.

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