Activity 3d: Freedom of Speech – A Case Study

Free access to ideas is an important human right listed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The right to free expression of and access to opinions does, however, carry with it certain obligations. Australian courts and parliaments limit freedom of ideas and information by allowing only certain materials to come into Australia, or by allowing only certain people in Australia to have access to materials. For example, there is censorship of violence, pornography and obscenity in films, books and magazines. Although many people agree that some degree of censorship is necessary, particularly when young people are involved, there is often fierce debate and disagreement about the levels of such censorship.

Both the Australian Capital Territory’s Human Rights Act (2004) and the Victorian Charter of Rights and Responsibilities (2006) have clauses that limit human rights in order to balance an individual’s civil  and political rights with the community’s collective social rights. In these activities students are asked to discuss censorship of free speech and the reasons why it exists. 

Resources Required


e Resources

Task 1

Read the following extracts. Do you think such restrictions and censorship of free speech are necessary? Explain your reasons.

Human rights may be limited

Human rights may be subject only to reasonable limits set by Territory laws that can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.

Human Rights Act (2004), Australian Capital Territory

Limiting human rights

The Charter recognises that human rights may be limited in certain circumstances. Under the Charter, rights may be limited when justified in a free and democratic society, taking into account relevant factors including:

  • What are the values underlying the human right?

  • Is the right being limited very important in international law? (for example, the prohibition against torture)

  • Is the purpose for limiting the right very important?

  • What sort of limitation is being proposed? To what extent does it limit the right?

  • Is the limitation proposed likely to achieve its purpose?

  • Are there less restrictive means reasonably available to achieve this purpose?

  • This allows a balance to be struck between people’s rights and a need for public authorities to protect the broader public interest.


Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act (2006)

Task 2

Read Handout: The David Irving Case.

People in Australia can read David Irving’s books, see his videos, have discussion groups and meetings, and access his ideas on the internet, but they cannot actually listen to him speak in person. Is this fair and reasonable? Is this a case of political censorship – the limiting of access to Australia of people with controversial political ideas?

Using the table below, compile a list of arguments for and against David Irving’s visit. Using the comment/evaluation section of the table decide which, if any, you would agree with and use in your own argument about whether you think he should be allowed to visit Australia. Some examples have been given to help you.

Arguments For 


Arguments Against 













Possible Arguments

  • A personal visit is different from books and videos and will have a greater impact. It will give publicity to socially dangerous ideas and will encourage people to adopt these ideas.

  • Banning ideas makes them ‘forbidden fruit’. People will be attracted to them, thinking that governments that impose bans have something to hide. 

  • Denying him entry will give him martyr status, and will give his cause the ‘oxygen of publicity’. 

The Minister eventually decided that a visa would not be issued to Irving on the grounds that he had a criminal record. Irving said he would fight this decision. Why might the Government have used its powers to ban Irving’s entry, rather than using its legislative and common law powers once he arrived? Do you agree that the Government made the right decision? Explain your reasons.

  • Draft a law that lists what you think are acceptable freedoms and limits in regard to speech and the spread of ideas. What difficulties might you encounter in drafting this law?

  • Design a comic strip that shows a situation where your drafted law could be applied. You might like to create the comic using a web tool such as Pixton

Assessment Task

Prepare a debate on the topic ‘Australia should have a Bill of Rights’. Use an online search engine, such as Google, to research reasons for and against a Bill of Rights. You may also be able to add other arguments to this list. Number them in a sequence which would create a logical argument for or against the case.

Find examples of Bills of Rights being used in a way that would support your side of the case. For example, if you are arguing against a Bill of Rights, you might support the argument that ‘a Bill of Rights becomes out of date as society changes’ by saying that ‘the right to bear arms’ in the US Bill of Rights is not appropriate in 21st-century society. You might compare the homicide rate of that society with other societies that do not have the right to bear arms. You might point out that it is difficult to dispose of that right and doing so in fact impinges on other rights.

Your classmates might like to podcast the debate. Refer to website references such as Podcasting Tools to guide you in the process.

Assessment Criteria

Your work will be assessed on:

  • the quality of your research

  • use of appropriate examples to support your case 

  • whether you have covered all the main arguments 

  • effectively countering your opponents’ arguments 

  • the logic and persuasiveness of your case. 


Activity 3a | Activity 3b |  Activity 3c | Activity 3d 

For the teacher | Human Rights Introduction3: How Do We Characterise Human Rights in Australia? 

Overview of activities:  Focus Question 3