"... there's a particular form of speech in Australia that does, demonstrably, cause harm: anti-vaccination propaganda."That brings us to the example of Islamic extremist Belal Khazaal, jailed for 12 years in 2012 for cutting and pasting together a sloppy e-book of material supporting jihad. Khazaal was jailed because of one of the Howard government's draconian anti-terror laws, s.101.5 of the Criminal Code, which makes it an offence to collect or make a document that "is connected with preparation for, the engagement of a person in, or assistance in a terrorist act" -- even if it's not intentional. To his considerable credit, Chris Berg is probably the only non-lawyer to sound the alarm about what happened to Khazaal. "Words are cheap," Berg wrote in 2012. "The Anarchist Cookbook provides more technical detail than Khazaal offered, and is free to read across the internet. Belal Khazaal may be a bad guy. He may deserve to be in prison ... But if he deserves to be in prison in Australia, he deserves to be there for a greater crime than making an e-book." Khazaal's case admittedly gets us close to the boundary of speech that urges people to harm others, even if "cake throwing" and "hitting with a hammer" sounds more like a Warner Bros cartoon than jihad. It's the lack of specificity that's the problem with Khazaal's literary effort, since he urged violence against, well, most of the Western world. And, as Berg notes, it's hard to say what particular harm has come from Khazaal's work, especially given the source material is still available online. If you're an incipient jihadist, it's unlikely Provision in the Rules of Jihad is the dangerous material radicalising you. But there's a particular form of speech in Australia that does, demonstrably, cause harm: anti-vaccination propaganda. Unlike other forms of denialism, vaccination denialism kills. It has a provable body count, in terms of the number of children who die from preventable diseases either because their own parents have refused to vaccinate them, or because, despite their own parents doing the right thing and vaccinating them, they were exposed to an unvaccinated child while only partially protected, or because they were babies too young for their shots and they have been exposed to unvaccinated children. To the extent that the lies of anti-vaccination campaigners influence a small number of parents to not vaccinate their children, it leads to the deaths of children from preventable diseases and leads to the illnesses and hospitalisation of others. It is speech that causes harm -- and death. On that basis, should anti-vaccination speech be banned? It's a hard case: one is loath to add to the conspiracy theories and sense of persecution of people who are either sublimely stupid or who in their inner-suburban affluence believe they're too good for vaccination, and don't want to be part of any herd whose immunity is critical. Moreover, in many cases anti-vaxxers genuinely believe the lies they spout about Big Pharma conspiracies, autism and chemicals. None of them mean to cause harm; they just wilfully refuse to see the harm they cause. A better response might be to stop facilitating denialism first before starting to ban it. The denialist "Australian Vaccination Network" was forced to change its name and recently (finally) lost its charity status. Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg has commendably raised the issue of making it significantly harder for parents to claim "conscientious objection" status. We should go further and ensure parents who, without medical approval (some kids can't be vaccinated safely), refuse vaccination do not receive family tax benefits, as proposed by Kevin Rudd before last year's election. The media -- especially television networks -- could stop pretending there's a "debate" about vaccination. That might help stop the death toll inflicted by the anti-vaccination lobby better than banning what they say. But it's odd that we're talking about other examples of harmful speech when there's a much more pressing one right under our noses.
A hard case of harmful speech: should we ban anti-vaccination talk?
There are better examples of speech that causes harm than the ones we're debating in relation to the Racial Discrimination Act. What about the anti-vaxxers?