Download the country report

List of Relevant Laws Impacting Free Speech (Australia) (2015-2022)

Social Media (Anti-Trolling) Bill 2022

This was stopped on the house, but it signals a shit in how federal government might deal with issues of online freedom of speech and freedom of expression in the coming years.


The defamation regime in Australia is widely viewed as a mechanism to silence people or debate. This has prompted a review of Australia’s defamation laws by the current Federal Government.

Ben Roberts-Smith Case

Racial Discrimination Act (1975) 18C

Section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, deals with offensive behaviour “because of race, colour or national or ethnic origin” in Australia. It is a section of the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, which was passed by the Australian Parliament during the term of the Whitlam government and makes racial discrimination unlawful in Australia. Section 18C was added by the Keating government in 1995.  The Section has been controversial and subject to much debate


The VLAD laws were enacted by the Queensland Parliament in 2013 with the express purpose of severely punishing members of criminal organisations. The Act was repealed in 2016 with the passing of the Serious and Organised Crime Amendment Act.

National Security Related Legislation

Data Surveillance Laws

This suite of laws has significantly enhanced the surveillance capabilities of Australia’s police enforcement and intelligence agencies. These laws have had a profound impact on the way some Australians communicate and share information through digital means. This, in turn, has impacted free speech and freedom of expression in Australia.

 Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Amendment (Data Retention) Act 2015

 Assistance and Access Act (2018)

 Identify and Disrupt Act (2021)

International Production Orders Act (2020)

Espionage Act (2018)

The National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Act was passed in June 2018. The act focused on foreign interference, but in 2019 was involved as part of an effort by the Australian Federal Government to identify who leaked information about Australia’s military operations in Afghanistan to Australian journalists. This act is housed as part of Criminal Code Act (1995).

ASIO Act (1979) Section 35P

Section 35P of the ASIO Act was introduced in July 2014 as part of a tranche of national security laws. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) is Australia’s national security agency responsible for the protection of the country and its citizens from espionage, sabotage, acts of foreign interference, politically motivated violence, attacks on the Australian defence system, and terrorism. The main criticism of 35P revolved around journalists being caught up as persons who are recipients of unauthorized disclosure of information should they engage in any subsequent disclosure. Under 35P jail terms of five to ten years applied to people disclosing information about an ASIO special intelligence operation (SIO). 35P was heavily criticised for targeting both whistleblowers and journalists.

Back to map