Skip links and keyboard navigation

Freedom of speech

Freedom of opinion and expression

Australia has 2 key elements that make up our freedom of speech: freedom of opinion and freedom of expression.

  • Freedom of opinion is your right to hold opinions—however different from mainstream opinion it may be—without interference. There are no exceptions or restrictions to this right.
  • Freedom of expression relates to any medium, including written and oral communication, the media, public protest, broadcasting, artistic works and commercial advertising. This right is not absolute, as it may be restricted in areas such as posting on the internet, the urging of violence or classification of artistic material and in relation to publishing defamatory information about someone.

Where these freedoms are contained

Australia is a party to 7 core international human rights treaties. The right to freedom of opinion and expression is contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Also relevant are the:

  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The Australian Constitution does not specifically outline the right to freedom of expression; it is an implied freedom within our democratic form of government. Therefore, it is not a constitutional right that can override legal restrictions or government action (unlike the United States’ First Amendment which enshrines free speech as a fundamental right of US citizens).

Scope of these freedoms

Your right to hold opinions without interference is not subject to any exception or restriction.

Your right to freedom of expression relates to any medium. This right protects unpopular ideas as well as favourable ones, including opinions that may offend or shock (subject to limitations and restrictions, as discussed below).

The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities gives people with a disability the right to accessible formats and technologies, enabling them to exercise their right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Limitations of these freedoms

While you have freedom of opinion and expression, our laws strike a balance between preserving these freedoms and protecting people from unfair treatment and discrimination.

There are therefore laws to protect the community against exposure to obscenities and to protect a person's good name and integrity against false information, i.e. defamation and discrimination, such as Defamation Act 2005 and Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 and laws to protect a person’s private information.

There are also laws against saying or writing things to incite hatred against others because of their race, religion, sexuality or gender identity (transsexuals). Freedom of speech is not an excuse to harm others.

For example, while you have the right to express your opinion of the government—in speech or in writing—the Criminal Code Act 1995 contains offences relating to urging by force or violence the overthrow of the Constitution or the government. It also contains offences relating to using the fixed and mobile telephone network—to menace, harass or offend people.

Under the Anti-Discrimination Act 1991 it is illegal to incite others to hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of a person or group because of their race, religion, sexuality or gender identity (e.g. by publicly encouraging another person to hate gays, transsexuals or Aboriginals).Under the Racial Discrimination Act 1975, it is illegal to commit an act likely to offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate another person or group if you’re doing it because of their race, colour or national or ethnic origin.

These restrictions relate to the content of the material, as well as how and where it’s distributed, and exhibited.

Further information

Last updated
25 January 2013
  1. Is your feedback about:
  2. (If you chose ‘website’ above)

    Page feedback

    1. How satisfied are you with your experience today? *
  3. (If you chose ‘service’ above)

    Feedback on government services, departments and staff

    Please use our complaints and compliments form.