Freedom of speech is essential to our democracy

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When I became Premier, the Australian community was debating proposed changes to federal racial discrimination laws. My first column outlined my opposition to the proposals being put forward, and sought to address concerns being discussed within communities across NSW.

The feedback I received showed many people were worried about how the proposed changes would impact on the rich and diverse network of communities we have in NSW. I wanted to assure our ethnic communities that my team was prepared to stand up for them, because we were prepared to stand up for what we thought was right.

The NSW Government took a lead role in unequivocally opposing the proposed changes to the so called Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act, and we welcome the decision taken by the Federal Government not to go ahead with the proposed changes.

We support the protections that are currently in place in the federal legislation to guard against racial vilification. The protections emphasise the practical importance of multiculturalism – particularly for our Aboriginal, multicultural and multi-faith communities.

It was clear that these proposed changes were strongly opposed in communities across NSW, and I am pleased the Federal Government has listened to them, and responded to their concerns.

Freedom of speech is essential to our democracy, but it is not an unfettered right. Vilification on the grounds of race or religion is always wrong and we should never allow it to be sanctioned, whether intentionally or otherwise.

On another note, we’re introducing changes to the state’s bail laws to ensure that people who pose an unacceptable risk to the community are no longer be eligible for bail.

The changes follow community concerns and the completion of an independent review by former NSW Attorney General John Hatzistergos, who is now a barrister and an Adjunct Professor at UTS.

Mr Hatzistergos was asked to look into the new risk-based model for bail, which was introduced earlier this year to address concerns the old system was too complicated, and has recommended important changes to further improve the system.

Some of the key changes to be introduced include that anyone accused of a crime will be refused bail if they’re found to be an “unacceptable risk” when they undergo a revised assessment test.

Furthermore, if a person is accused of a serious offence, it will be up to that person to show cause that their detention in custody isn’t justified. New risk factors will also be included as part of the bail assessment process, including whether an accused has associations to organised crime, and their history of complying with any previous bail or parole conditions.

These are commonsense changes that should reassure the community that the new bail laws are doing precisely what they were intended to do, which is to place the potential risk to the community posed by an accused offender front and centre of the justice system.

The NSW Government places community safety above all other considerations, and will implement all of Mr Hatzistergos’s recommendations in the current session of Parliament.

Published in Indian diaspora magazine, Sydney

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