Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression includes not only freedom of speech but freedom of artistic expression and freedom to communicate generally. The right to engage in communication on political matters is one of the few constitutionally protected rights we enjoy in Australia. This is because the system of democratic government created by our constitution depends on the free exchange of political communications. Like most freedoms, freedom of expression is not absolute and must be qualified by restrictions necessary for the protection of public order. Thus the freedom does not protect calls for the violent overthrow of the State, incitement to criminal behaviour, contempt of court or defamation. Changing community standards can result in some variations over time in the extent of this freedom, for example in relation to offensive language in public and sexually explicit publications. Difficult questions can arise regarding the extent of the qualifications on this freedom, especially in the area of racial and religious vilification. Liberty Victoria has supported the civil law aspects of racial and religious vilification legislation as an effective way of discouraging this anti-social behaviour. However, Liberty considers that, before any kind of expression is prohibited, it must be shown that it somehow threatens public order. Therefore it has opposed those parts of the racial and religious vilification laws which create new criminal offences.