Govt to add religious exemption to its misinformation bill


Communications Minister Michelle Rowland on Q&A
Image: ABC

LGBTQIA+ advocates have slammed an Albanese government proposal to add religious exemptions to a draft bill targeting misinformation and disinformation online.

Communications Minister Michelle Rowland put out an exposure draft of the proposed legislation in June.

The draft bill would have granted the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) new powers to require social media companies to toughen policies on “false, misleading or deceptive” content that’s “reasonably likely to cause or contribute to serious harm”.

The proposal has received pushback from the Coalition as well as legal and human rights experts and others. The Australian Human Rights Commission opposes it over concerns around freedom of expression.

Controversial misinformation bill to get religious exemptions

Michelle Rowland has now delayed introducing the draft bill to parliament until 2024. Rowland says she will overhaul the draft bill, making some big changes to “improve” it.

“I do want to stress that doing nothing is not an option in this area,” she told Nine newspapers.

“As we’ve seen with the rise of generative AI, those risks posed by that technology make ensuring we have a framework around mis- and disinformation even more important than ever.”

Rowland said after concerns from faith groups, one major addition would be “exemptions and clarifications” for “religious expression”.

“We want to make it as explicit as possible that nothing in this bill can inhibit religious expression,” she said.

“That would be a new area that wasn’t considered at the time of the original consultation. But it clearly is important and we want to address it.”

‘Harmful falsehoods about LGBTQIA+ people’

But LGBTQIA+ group Just.Equal Australia has condemned that proposal.

Spokesperson Sally Goldner said such an exemption would allow for the spread of harmful falsehoods about LGBTQIA+ people.

“There are already mountains of harmful misinformation and disinformation about LGBTQIA+ people in the public domain,” Sally said.

“A religious exemption in the proposed legislation will just make this worse. [It would send] the message that such misinformation and disinformation is okay if it is dressed up as religious doctrine.”

In submissions, faith groups Catholics for Renewal and Concerned Catholics Tasmania said “damaging” and “unscientific” Catholic teachings, including that homosexuality is “an objective disorder”, should not get protection.

“Misinformation and disinformation about LGBTIQA+ people, especially trans and gender diverse people, is the foundation of discrimination and violence,” Sally Goldner said.

“Instead of proposing what is effectively a new religious freedom bill, the government should extend existing national vilification laws to LGBTQIA+ people and other groups.”

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Jordan Hirst
Jordan Hirst

Jordan Hirst is an experienced journalist and content creator with a career spanning over a decade at QNews. Since 2012, the Brisbane local has covered an enormous range of topics and subjects in-depth affecting the LGBTIQA+ community, both in Australia and overseas. Today, the Brisbane-based journalist covers everything from current affairs, politics and health to sport and entertainment.

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