Published on 5 July 2006. Last modified on 7 October 2015.

In this Inquiry, the ALRC examined the offence of sedition as amended by federal Parliament in 2005.

Historically, sedition law has been used to suppress political dissent, punishing speech that is critical of the established order. Stakeholders, including politicians across party lines, the media, and a Senate inquiry expressed concerns that sedition laws introduced by the Anti-Terrorism Act (No 2) 2005 (Cth) and which targeted activity promoting terrorist activity, have the potential to inhibit freedom of expression and free association.

Key recommendations

Fighting Words: A Review of Sedition Laws in Australia (ALRC Report 104) made 27 recommendations for reform. Most of these legislative changes were directed at the Australian Government.

Key recommendations include:

  • the Australian Government should remove the term ‘sedition’ from federal criminal law. To this end, the headings of Part 5.1 and Division 80 of the Criminal Code (Cth) shold be changed to ‘Treason and urging political or inter-group force or violence’, and the heading of s 80.2 should be changed to ‘Urging political or inter-group force or violence’
  • amending the offences of ‘assisting’ the enemy, to clarify that this refers to material assistance—such as providing arms, funds, personnel or strategic information;
  • outright repeal of the outdated ‘unlawful associations’ provisions in the Crimes Act, which have been superseded by more recent laws dealing with terrorist organisations; and
  • reviewing some old, related offences—such as ‘treachery’ and ‘sabotage’—to determine whether these should now be repealed or ‘modernised’.

The Executive Summary in ALRC Report 104 contains a comprehensive summary of the key findings and recommendations in the report.

Implementation

The Australian Government response to Fighting Words: A Review of Sedition Laws in Australia (ALRC Report 104, 2006) on 23 December 2008 supported the majority of the report's recommendations.

In addition to legislative change, Recommendation 10–5 recommended that the Australian Government pursue non-legislative strategies, including educational programs, aimed at promoting inter-communal harmony and understanding.

The Australian Government response indicated that the Australian Government Attorney-General's Department is currently further developing its community education program including the development and distribution of information pamphlets which explain the operation of the counter-terrorism offences and related legislation. In July 2006, the National Action Plan to Build on Social Cohesion, Harmony and Security (NAP) was endorsed by the Ministerial Council on Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

Under the auspices of the NAP, many programs and activities have been undertaken, including the establishment of the Australian Human Rights Commission's Community Partnerships for Human Rights program, which aims to increase social cohesion and counteract extreme discriminatory views and intolerance at the local and broader community level. These programs are consistent with the recommendation of ALRC Report 104.

National Security Legislation Amendment Act 2010 (Cth)

Schedule 1 of the National Security Legislation Amendment Act 2010 implements a number of recommendations in Fighting Words, including:

  • the removal of the term ‘sedition’ from federal criminal law and replacing it with references to ‘urging violence offences’, including in the heading to Part 5.1 and Division 80 of the Criminal Code (Cth) (Recommendation 2–1);
  • the repeal of the Crimes Act 1914 (Cth) provisions concerning unlawful associations (Recommendation 4–1);
  • the repeal of s 30C of the Crimes Act which contains the offence of advocating or inciting to crime (Recommendation 9–3); and
  • the amendment of the treason offences in s 80.1(1)(e)–(f) of the Criminal Code to provide, among other things that conduct must ‘materially’ assist an enemy, making it clear that mere rhetoric or expression of dissent are not sufficient, and ensuring a proclamation of an enemy is not sufficient (Recommendation 11–2).

These sections of the Act commenced on 24 November 2010.