NSW first to pass national defamation reforms

The NSW Parliament today became the first jurisdiction in Australia to legislate far-reaching reforms to defamation laws to unclog courts from trivial claims, to rein in massive payouts for non-economic loss and to support public interest journalism.

Attorney General Mark Speakman says the reforms will modernise existing defamation laws that came into force while social media was still in its infancy.

“The passage of these reforms through Parliament today marks the completion of the first tranche of reforms agreed by the Council of Attorneys General (CAG) last month,” Mr Speakman said.

“The CAG agreed that each jurisdiction would act as quickly as possible to introduce the Model Defamation Amendment Provisions in their respective Parliaments. I hope that other states and territories will follow NSW’s lead. The sooner this is done, the earlier Australia can have consistent and modern defamation laws.”

Once proclaimed into law, the reforms will establish:

  • A serious harm threshold, to keep minor ‘backyard’ claims out of court;
  • A requirement for a plaintiff to issue a concerns notice before going to court, to encourage resolution before litigation;
  • A single publication rule starting limitation periods from the first upload, rather than the last click on a story;
  • The cap on damages for non-economic loss as a real cap;
  • A defence for peer reviewed matters in scientific and academic journals; and
  • A public interest defence which will protect responsible journalism.

Mr Speakman thanked everyone who helped shape the defamation reforms from the 2018 statutory review of the NSW Defamation Act 2005, through two rounds of public consultation over a year and a half by the CAG’s Defamation Working Group.

“These reforms represent a generational change in the way Australia’s legal system will protect reputations from serious harm while encouraging responsible free speech,” Mr Speakman said.

The NSW Government will consult with CAG partners over when the reforms will become law.

NSW continues to lead work on a second tranche of reforms to refine the responsibilities of internet platforms for the publication of defamatory material on their sites.

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