“This is universally accepted to indicate that communicating sincerely held religious beliefs is an important contribution to the common good that should be safeguarded when drafting legislation.”
Kamalle Dabboussy, of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, said his organisation had not settled on a formal position on the bill but cited “concern that the debate around this and similar legislation may curtail freedom of religious expression”.
“Every family needs to maintain their own cultural, linguistic and religious heritage. With due diligence the government can heed these concerns,” he said.
The law, proposed by Communications Minister Michelle Rowland, would give the Australian Communications and Media Authority power to fine social media giants millions of dollars for misinformation and content it deems harmful.
Responsibility for censoring claims will lie with platforms such as TikTok and Meta, but public law expert Professor Anne Twomey, who last month labelled the bill a “fiasco”, has said the Communications and Media Authority would, at an underlying level, be the determinant of misinformation due to its enforcement role.
“We do also need to be very cautious that the cure does not end up being worse than the disease,” she said last month. “There is a serious risk in combating misinformation and disinformation, we seriously undermine freedom of speech, which is a pillar of that system of democracy we are trying to defend.”
Concerns about the bill have been raised by a wide range of civil society groups. They centre on freedom of expression, broad definitions of misinformation, and sections that mean professional news organisations, governments and academics cannot be accused of misinformation.
Independent MP Zoe Daniel, a former journalist, said it was important to clamp down on false online information and slammed the Coalition for what she said was its fearmongering over the bill. However, she said the draft bill included definitions that may be too vague.
“This is an uncomfortable but necessary conversation, and any legislation must be carefully calibrated to help rebuild, not further erode, public trust. I say: don’t bin the bill; fix the bill,” she said in parliament on Monday.
Rowland’s spokesman said the government was conducting a public consultation on whether the bill struck the right balance between blocking harmful content and protecting freedom of speech.
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