Court of Appeal upholds finding on homophobic comments

A FORMER Cooloola councillor has lost his fight for a constitutional challenge over perceived rights to publish his homophobic views freely.

Three Gympie lesbians successfully complained to Anti-Discrimination Tribunal Australia about Ronald Owen inciting hatred, serious contempt for or severe ridicule of homosexuals through his behaviour.

The QADT upheld the complaint under the Anti-Discrimination Act for a bumper sticker on his vehicle, publishing a report in the Cooloola Shire Council agenda, making comments in an interview broadcast on television and publishing a letter on a website linked to his gun shop.

The judgment found Owen was entitled to be a homophobe and entitled to publicly express his homophobic views because that much is required in a society that values freedom of thought and expression.

But tribunal member Darryl Rangiah described some of the behaviour as inciting ridicule of homosexual people and involving hostile and inflammatory language.

The Queensland Court of Appeal upheld the decision.

During a High Court session, via video-link between Canberra and Brisbane, barrister Ryan Haddrick argued Owen's comments should have implied protection through freedom of political communication provided through Australia's Constitution.

He said the meaning of words in the Act should be read down, reducing the power of the words, so Mr Owen's conduct could be covered as "entirely inconsistent with the way local government has been practised since before Federation".

"There are acts done for the purposes of governmental or political communication," he said.

"A law designed to achieve civility of discourse is not consistent with the second amendment.

"They are tools of political persuasion consistent with representative government."

Mr Haddrick also argued the previous courts did not have the jurisdiction to make the findings it did.

But the High Court found this case did not "engage the constitutional principle which is asserted" in a way that it could be successful.

Special leave to appeal was refused with costs awarded against Owen.

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