Legislative shortcuts means we’re short-changed on due process
Australia has yet again succumbed to a blind rush to legislate in the wake of the atrocities committed in Christchurch on March 15th. The Unlawful Showing of Abhorrent Violent Material Bill 2019 has been loosely characterised as a crackdown on social media in response to live streamed footage from the perpetrator which was subsequently shared by other online users. There is widespread agreement that the removal of such distressing footage is undoubtedly the right thing to do. However, there are major concerns centred around the manner the bill was passed in parliament. Liberal Democrat Senator Duncan Spender explained how the bill was voted for in a video uploaded to YouTube on April 3rd.
“This is a bill which was passed in the Senate last night but the funny thing is it wasn’t introduced or at least circulated to us last night, so senators were asked to vote on a bill they didn’t even see, that is a new low for democracy in this country. There are often stages where bills are passed without there being a proper committee process and people aren’t allowed to give evidence and make submissions, but this is the first instance I’ve ever heard of a bill being passed without it even being circulated.” click here to watch the full video
Having quickly rammed the social media crackdown laws through the Senate, the laws also passed through Australia’s lower house with little opposition. Not surprising given the information provided by Senator Spender.
Jail, Fines, and Reasonable Time?
The blatant disregard for proper democratic procedure is certainly unique but the punishments for breaching the new bill have an air familiarity. Companies around the world are also required to notify the Australian Federal Police if they are hosting “abhorrent violent material” which originates from Australia on their platforms. The absurdity of a social media service provider reporting itself to the police with the result being a hefty financial penalty is evidently lost on Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Coalition Government. The fact an amendment to legislation was predicated on an isolated, albeit shocking and abhorrent event, does not make for good governance and neither does it necessarily curtail the uploading of the very contents it is seeking to censor. Jailing media bosses won’t protect us from terrorists but it does run the risk of quickly creating a less open and free society as rushing legislating through out of fear is a well-known recipe for disaster. In much the same way, the Anti-Encryption Bill was plagued with vague terminology and this latest addition to Australia’s new found obsession with knee-jerk policy implementation has proven to be even more dangerously ambiguous. Facebook and YouTube were admittedly clumsy in their removal of the online footage posted by the perpetrator, but by threatening to put the CEO’s of tech companies in jail due to not removing the live streaming of the tragedy in a ‘reasonable time’ or ‘expeditiously’ will not make one single Australian citizen safer.
Take a Deep Breath
The introduction of new laws or amendments to existing ones should be a thorough and considered process of deliberation and debate. StartupAUS chief executive Alex McCauley echoed the sentiment in an email.
“Between this and the encryption laws, we’re starting to see a trend towards jumping into anti-tech legislation in a knee-jerk fashion.” This is just a snippet, click here for the full article
The creation of new offences, regulation of media and extraterritorial laws raise legitimate questions that cannot be answered in a day or two. Equally problematic is the insistence on ramming through broad-brush laws as a reaction to singular events be they domestic or foreign. The community expects protection against extremist violence and discretion from all media in dealing with imagery of that violence, but not to the detriment of prudent pause and proper consultation as it diminishes trust in our parliamentary system. The Sharing of Abhorrent Violent Material Amendment Bill deserves full consideration and scrutiny and this has clearly not happened. More time is required for consultation and discussion on this bill to ensure that it properly addresses the underlying community need, without unnecessarily impinging on fundamental existing media rights and freedoms.
The Law Council of Australia has suggested the livestream laws could have serious unintended consequences and a chilling effect on businesses. Law Council president, Arthur Moses, agreed steps should be taken to ensure social media is not weaponised to promote hatred and violence but said proper consultation must occur to ensure fair and effective legislation is introduced.
“As we know, laws formulated as a knee-jerk reaction to a tragic event do not necessarily equate to good legislation and can have myriad unintended consequences. Whistleblowers may no longer be able to deploy social media to shine a light on atrocities committed around the world because social media companies will be required to remove certain content for fear of being charged with a crime. It could also lead to censorship of the media, which would be unacceptable.” Read the full article here
In short, we understand the need for legislative change/development/action for the greater good and that sometimes we need to move swiftly. But for goodness sake, let’s act with more pace and less haste thereby ensuring that our laws provide benefit for all as opposed to false hope for some.