Nation’s attorneys-general agree to bring defamation laws into digital age

“These reforms will unclog our courts of neighbourhood tiffs, they will put downward pressure on damages for hurt feelings, and they will protect responsible public interest journalism,” he said.


The proposals include a “serious harm threshold” for claims, a single publication rule to ensure the one-year window for claims starts on the date of publication to the internet, improved pathways to encourage settlement without litigation, a new defence for responsible communication of matters in the public interest, and limiting payouts for successful claims.

The draft reforms are open for public consultation until January 24, 2020. Under the timeframe previously agreed to by the attorneys-general, the changes will be ready to be legislated in state and territory parliaments by June next year.

In addition to the changes to address the “most pressing concerns” in defamation law, there will be a stage two process to address more complex issues with digital platforms. It will consider the federal government’s response to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s landmark digital platforms inquiry, which called for sweeping changes to the regulation of tech giants.

Mr Porter last week declared he wanted to see digital platforms like Facebook and Twitter face essentially the same standards as traditional publishers in a bit to address the “un-level playing field”.


Mr Porter said “my own view is that principles of responsibility relating to online platforms should be similar to those applied to traditional publishers and media organisations”.

The national defamation review is aiming to modernise the framework introduced in 2006, when all jurisdictions put in place consistent laws based on a national model. The uniform approach replaced a complex patchwork of laws.

The 2006-era laws have since been outpaced by technological change, with internet platforms generating an explosion of minor claims. Current laws also treat online publications as a new publication each time they are accessed, allowing for perpetual renewal of the one-year time limit for defamation suits. The push for change also reflects growing agreement that protections for journalism should be boosted.


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