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Stifling free speech OK, High Court says

Stifling free speech OK, High Court says

The High Court of Australia has delivered a blow to the solar plexus of the people of Palm Island. The court has ruled that an islander, now on parole, can have his free speech rights stifled because a Queensland law is nicely written…never mind that the law comprises an abuse of the universal right to freedom of speech.

Stifling free speech OK, High Court says

Australia’s highest court continues to allow governments, officials and parole boards to stifle Australians’ right to free speech.

In the case of a parole board or prison warden, they can take it away from you, whether you are the prisoner or a journalist.

It seems that any government authority can gag an Australian if the authority deems safety might be at risk, or it fears a crime might be committed, or if you haven’t filled out the right paperwork.

This is government by forms and the discretion of officials, as sanctioned by the High Court.

One judge even thought the relevant Queensland prisons law was OK because it focused on journalists, not prisoners. The HC apparently thinks it’s reasonable if a law says a journalist commits a criminal offence by talking to a prisoner who is free to live and breathe in his home community.

The HC in late-February ruled a man, now on parole but who was jailed over riots on Palm Island, could be prevented from talking to the media or attending public meetings on the island. The court acknowledged the issues the man wanted to discuss were of national importance, 

Lex Wotton, 44, was jailed in 2008 for his role in riots after the death of Cameron Doomadgee in police custody in 2004. He was released in July 2010 on parole, on conditions which included that he not communicate with the media and not attend public meetings on Palm Island.

His legal team argued that the terms unlawfully curbed Wotton’s implied constitutional right to free speech. But the High Court unanimously dismissed the appeal, saying the terms of the Queensland government’s Corrective Services Act were "reasonably appropriate" and "adapted to serve a legitimate end". The law’s intentions – "the need to consider community safety and crime prevention" – were expressed clearly in the act. The parole conditions were consistent with the act and complied with the constitutional limitations of the state, the court said.

Moreover, the High Court held that, because no one had applied to the Correctives Services tsar for ‘permission’ to interview the prisoner, but that they COULD have applied, the law was reasonable.

Justice Susan Kiefel said the Corrective Services Act had not completely prevented Wotton from speaking on political matters, and noted that it was focused on journalists rather than on prisoners.


  1. As a resident of Townsville I remember when the local paper attacked and attempted to discredit a speaker at John Curtin University for referring to Mr Lex Wotton as a hero…so as to freedom of speech in this part of North Queensland, I would observe that the local newspaper has the unfettered freedom to speak on our behalf. – Mr. Reed, Queensland.
    NOTE: Lex Wotton was jailed for inciting a riot on Palm Island after the Mulrunji Doomadgee death in custody in November 2004. Wotton was banned from speaking publicly, under his parole conditions, when let out of jail after 16 months of a six-year jail sentence. However, he was allowed to speak at a First Nations conference in Cairns in November 2011.

  2. It seems that freedom of speech is more and more an issue of money and social status. Mining companies can advertise, lie and manipulate, but political activists cannot. Organizations criticizing the establishment and demanding social justice and equality get officially silenced. Freedom of Speech has long gone. Just look how we train our children- public speaking competitions are comedy shows,if you are not funny and make the audience laugh no way you win. I have to cringe every time our politicians wave the democracy, I think we have for a long time leaned on a empty phrase and it is time to give “democracy” in our country a bit more thought and words.

    Michaela Boelling

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