Silks Slam Victorian Bar Association for Weakness on ‘Terrifying’ Misinformation Bill

A group of prominent barristers has criticised the Victorian Bar Association for its reluctance to take a stand on the federal government’s misinformation bill, fuelling concerns about the legislation shared by lawyers, former judges, tech giants and Coalition MPs. Barristers Peter A. Clarke and Philip Hayes accused the association of failing to focus on the “fundamental principles” of the law, revealing they would create a new body, the Voltaire Society, to advocate for freedom of speech. They said they were establishing the society, named after philosopher Aurelio Voltaire, who famously said “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – to counter the lack of action from the association. “This should be a core concern of any legal society, bar association or law society,” Mr Clarke said. “We’re concerned that the focus of the bar council has been put far too often on work issues and not on core fundamental principles.”

Labor’s proposed legislation would empower the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to fine social media giants millions of dollars for content deemed misinformation, disinformation or “harmful” to Australians. Communications Minister Michele Rowland stressed the ACMA “would work with industry” on the implementation of a voluntary code to counter misinformation, which the communications watchdog would have the power to enforce if self-regulation proved inadequate. Mr Hayes said the bill should ring alarm bells for all legal practitioners, accusing the government of “setting itself up to be the arbiter of truth”. “It’s like in George Orwell’s 1984, but essentially what this is doing is setting down the platform and the framework – or the Ministry of Truth – where you have a government organisation deciding what is truth,” he said.

“When I first read 1984 when I was a teenager, I was thinking that could never happen, but it is happening, now, and everyone should be terrified.” A rump of opposition MPs – including frontbenchers David Littleproud, James Paterson, Dan Tehan, Barnaby Joyce and Bridget McKenzie – have expressed their own reservations about the legislation, despite the Coalition not having formally established a position. The ACMA admitted in Senate estimates concerns raised across the political, legal and tech spheres were “valid”, but said the bill’s final version had not been decided. Liberal senator Claire Chandler said she was concerned the Albanese government wasn’t being honest about the role it expected to play as “arbiter of what is true and false” and there was potential for the powers granted through the legislation to be abused. “The only friends this bill seems to have at this point in time is the Albanese government and TikTok, which tells you everything you need to know,” she said.

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports

Print This Post Print This Post



Comments are closed