FORMER High Court judge Ian Callinan has called for widespread community opposition to the federal government's proposed changes to discrimination law, which he says are "outrageous" and a threat to community cohesion."Every Australian with an ideal for democracy - and I hope that means most Australians - should do everything they lawfully can to oppose the introduction of this outrageous law," said Mr Callinan, who retired from the nation's highest court in 2007.
"It seems as if each year the Constitution and the cohesion of the Australian community are put at some new and entirely unnecessary risk.
"The dangers of the current one, of the introduction of a new law to criminalise speech which might cause offence to anyone, should not be underestimated."
His intervention in the debate over the government's plan to consolidate five federal anti-discrimination statutes coincides with a warning from Victorian Attorney-General Robert Clark that the scheme could expose state police and prison officers to litigation from suspects, offenders and prisoners.
While the government proposed to exempt its own authorised activities from the proposed scheme, "it proposes no such general exemption for activities authorised under state law".
Their concerns have been triggered by an exposure draft of the government plan that has been widely criticised. ABC chairman Jim Spigelman, a former chief justice of NSW, warned that it would impose unprecedented restrictions on free speech.
If enacted, the scheme would extend the reach of provisions in the Racial Discrimination Act that already impose liability for actions that offend or insult.
Those provisions, used in 2011 against columnist Andrew Bolt, would be extended into all areas of discrimination law so legal action could be launched by anyone who claims to have an attribute protected by the scheme.
Those attributes include sexual orientation, gender identity, social origin, political opinion, disability, sex, age, race, industrial history, medical history, nationality, potential pregnancy and religion.
The onus of proof would be reversed so those accused of offending would be presumed guilty unless they proved their innocence.
Mr Callinan, who is president of the federalist Samuel Griffith Society, used his Australia Day message to members to denounce the scheme.
"Even the imaginative powers of George Orwell would not have conceived of an administration that would dare to try to forbid every member of society from passing adverse comment upon any other member of it," he said.
If "political good sense" did not prevail and the draft scheme were enacted, Mr Callinan said he was optimistic that "it will not survive the scrutiny of the courts".
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