The Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) has launched a petition against an Albanese government bill that its Managing Director Michelle Pearse describes as “especially dangerous for Christians who want to express an alternate view to woke culture and gender and sexuality as well as for those who want to speak out against abortion.”
The ACL says the proposed Combating Misinformation and Disinformation Bill would see the government define what truth is and give power to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) and online platforms such as Meta and YouTube to enforce it, prompting the Lobby to warn: “The bill threatens the very essence of our democratic rights. It grants the government the power to define truth and empowers regulatory bodies to enforce it, while exempting the government and mainstream media from the same rules. We must act now to protect freedom of speech and oppose the enforcement of ideological conformity in Australia.”
Michelle Pearse says: “The bill is based on providing ACMA with the power to strictly regulate what they interpret as harmful information and expression on online platforms like social media. The concept of this supposed harm is extravagant. Two of the many definitions of this harm is hatred against a group in Australian society on the basis of, amongst other things, gender and sexual orientation, or harm to the health of Australians.”
“Now, it goes without saying that as Christians we don’t hate those with ultimate views, but we believe that disagreeing and loving can co-exist. In fact, at times it’s loving to disagree. However, as we see time and time again, there are strong elements of our culture who label our disagreement or us pointing out the issues we have with gender theory or abortion as hate or harmful,” Ms. Pearse continues.
“The way the government proposes to regulate online platforms is by imposing a code on the digital platforms themselves. It will make them terrified at allowing your content if there is any risk of it being caught by this low standard of harm. This is because a breach of the code will expose them to billions of dollars of fines if they get it wrong. So out of fear of penalties digital platforms will play it safe. You will be censored,” the ACL boss declared.
Media lawyer Justin Quill reveals in The Australian: “These fines can be up to 5% of a company’s global turnover, which for Meta could mean a fine of over $8 billion given the company’s global turnover is around $170 billion.”
He says: “Free speech is critical to our democracy. But it is vulnerable. If Australians don’t ferociously protect their free speech it could crumble and fall [brick by brick]. Right now, our federal government is proposing the removal of at least one – perhaps more – bricks from Australia’s free speech wall. Make no mistake, this free-speech brick-removing legislation must be stopped.”
“In practice, you probably won’t even know about these ACMA determinations. If the government gets its way, the information will be just quietly taken down before you get a chance to consider it. The concept is not only scary, it’s just so stupid.”
Communications Minister Michelle Rowland is reported as saying the bill is “not about moderating content” Mr. Quill believes that’s exactly what it’s about. He told Sky News: “She hasn’t read or understood the bill, because this absolutely is about moderating content. It’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise.”
The ACL’s Michelle Pearse is especially concerned for her own organisation: “If this bill is passed, our views expressed online will be also excessively monitored by the watchdog and records of your non-conforming activity. We will be silenced by the government, but the government will not, because anything authorised by the government by definition is incapable of being false or misleading or deceptive.”
“We have seen online platforms themselves already overstep in their silencing free speech, especially of conservative voices. But now in authoritarian style, the government is seizing control of what is acceptable and unacceptable. In this framework, there is no place given to freedom of expression. This is not democracy.”
The government is taking submissions on the bill until August 6. The ACL is urging individuals, churches, schools and other Christian organisations to send in submissions. The ACL website has links to help people make submissions and sign a petition opposing the bill.