“Free speech is free speech, there’s no qualification to it, let’s just remove 18C entirely and everything that goes with it,” Senator David Leyonhjelm told Insiders on Sunday, announcing plans to move a private member’s bill to amend the Racial Discrimination Act.

We agree that free speech is free speech, and although Australia does not have the right to free speech, it should. However, there is a vastly greater threat to free speech that no one is talking about — Australia’s overreaching defamation laws.

The Anglican church has threatened two youth leaders with a defamation lawsuit for reporting alleged sexual abuse of children, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has heard. One of the leaders said “he and his wife did not report the ­alleged abuse to police as they were worried about legal action following the bishop’s warning”.

In a country where a sitting treasurer can successfully sue a news outlet for a completely true and balanced article showing he was charging lobbyists money for access to his time and insiders are afraid to report serious crimes against children because of fear of a defamation lawsuit, there is a long way to go before 18C is our major impediment to free speech.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey