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Jan 1, 2013

Gillard outlines ‘vision’; fails to mention draconian anti discrimination laws

On the assumption that this will be Julia’s last new year as PM, she has outlined her vision for the incoming year.  The report is from the ABC and Gillard is a Laborite, so an idea from her is called a vision, as per standard practice.
In order to have a grandiose big spending scheme to hang her hat on during her declining years, she is pushing through the National Disability Insurance Scheme despite her government’s inability to balance the budget in the good times.   Her other grand plan is ‘reforming’ education by throwing an extra $5 billion per year at it.  
Curiously though, she didn’t mention Roxon’s anti discrimination laws, which are designed to make it easier for the liliaceous and professionally offended to lodge lawsuits for more things with little risk of downside: 
THE law that was used to silence Andrew Bolt has been supercharged by the Gillard government's proposed changes to anti-discrimination laws.  Bolt was found to have breached section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, which says it is unlawful to offend or insult someone on the basis of racial or ethnic characteristics in a public space. 
But Attorney-General Nicola Roxon's proposed changes massively expand the list of characteristics people can be offended by, expanding the jurisdiction into shops, workplaces and sporting clubs.  The regime will provide a new weapon in the war on free speech by even including "political opinion" as a ground on which people can be discriminated against. 
This extraordinary change makes even innocuous political expressions subject to the law - a person need only be offended or insulted in order to make out a claim. Shop owners displaying signs in support of a political candidate may now be legally discriminating against employees who want the other guy to win. … 
Not only do the changes represent an extraordinary attack on freedom of speech, they also undermine fundamental legal principles derived from 800 years of common law. They would reverse the onus of proof, forcing employers to prove that they are innocent of discrimination. … 
… The rationale behind this principle is simple: it is difficult, even impossible, to produce evidence of a thing that does not exist. In a free society, it is a principle of utmost importance that we protect the innocent even if it makes it harder to punish the guilty. 
A reversal of the onus of proof tends to result in absurd and unjust outcomes. And this is precisely what the Gillard government's proposed changes will achieve. Section 124 of the draft legislation reverses the onus of proof in the case of a plaintiff providing some evidence that discrimination could perhaps have occurred. After jumping this small hurdle, it is then up to the defendant to prove otherwise.  For some reason the Gillard government doesn't see this as a reversal of the burden of proof, but a "shift". It at least gets points for creativity. 
Discrimination claims will also cost the complainant nothing even if they lose. The laws have been designed to create a no-cost regime (at least for those who allege discrimination). 
This is not how civil cases are usually run. Sure, free lawsuits may sound appealing but generally the losing party must pay all legal costs, which helps discourage any frivolous claims from making it to court. Instead, the already struggling court system will be burdened with a flood of new litigation from people who no longer have to take any financial risk. 
Indeed, the new law creates a regime that skews so heavily towards plaintiffs that it actually encourages false allegations. Most employers, faced with potentially substantial costs in terms of time and money, will settle even spurious claims out of court. Smart lawyers already know how to squeeze "go away" money out of employers. … 
… Unfavourable treatment could cover almost anything, and simply ensures an increase in the number of discrimination claims being made. … 
… We've already seen the consequences of the Racial Discrimination Act for freedom of speech. If you thought that was a miscarriages of justice, just wait until you see the extraordinary wave of free speech litigation Roxon's new laws will unleash.
Anti discrimination laws have been absurd for some time.  Four years ago the case of Ron Owen was dealt with here over his being sued for an ‘offensive’ bumper sticker: 
The former president of the National Firearm Owners of Australia was taken to the tribunal by several local lesbians, who claimed they had been offended despite only one having seen the bumper sticker. Two of the women were awarded $5000, with a third awarded $2500 in damages. Tribunal member Darryl Rangiah handed down a 77-page decision, which also ordered Mr Owen to publish a written apology for inciting hatred and causing offence to the homosexual community of Gympie.
The possibility of being sued for insensitivity is absolutely ridiculous in the first place, never mind the vast expansion of grounds and the easier path to doing so.  Making it risk free as far as costs are concerned, and with a reverse onus of proof is begging for trouble.
It seems that we have government of the people, by the lawyers, for the lawyers, shall not perish from Australia.

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