Debating is likely to offend

MARTIN Gilmour says: The federal government is in the process of overhauling discrimination laws but it runs the real risk of the debate being distracted by over-zealous legislation.

Certainly anti-discrimination legislation is designed to protect vulnerable members of our community.

In Tasmania the act specifies religion, race, disability and sexual orientation and in many ways the federal legislation will streamline what is already happening in several states.

However, Labor also plans to make it unlawful to offend or insult a person under these laws, and this is a step too far.

Australia is a robust country with robust debate on many issues.

Most of these are likely to offend someone somewhere and somehow - it is called freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

There are already strict laws that protect individuals against defamation and these are used regularly.

However, not everyone has the right to go through life unoffended.

Most parliamentary debates are designed to offend an opposite number.

When federal Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said that Tony Abbott had an "issue with capable women", there would be people, like his senior adviser Peta Credlin, who would have been offended - perhaps even his wife and three daughters as well.

When the anti-carbon tax protesters waved the placard "Juliar" in Canberra, Prime Minister Julia Gillard must have been offended.

We have so many Australians from every country in the world that some are certain to be offended by the normal actions of another.

However, legislating against being offended is a knee-jerk response. It is political correctness taken to a ridiculous level.

It is interesting that all of Australia's media companies have joined forces to oppose this change to federal law.

They argue that political commentary or programming on sensitive matters may well insult or offend some people, but having that national debate is "essential to fostering robust social and political debate and therefore ensuring a healthy democracy".