Significant updates to Queensland’s defamation laws

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Minister for Women and Minister for the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence The Honourable Shannon Fentiman

Freedom of expression, modern media reporting and protection of individuals from reputational harm are on the agenda of the Palaszczuk Government with significant amendments being introduced to defamation law provisions today.

The Defamation (Model Provisions) and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (the Bill) has been introduced to Parliament and, if passed, the amendments to the Defamation Act 2005 are proposed to commence on 1 July 2021.

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Shannon Fentiman, said updating the national approach to defamation laws would provide greater clarity to the courts, the community and the media.

“This is a significant step to protect freedom of expression for Queenslanders, and ensure open and transparent reporting in our state,” Minister Fentiman said.

The proposed legislative amendments would apply to defamatory matters published after the commencement of the amendments, meaning existing proceedings will continue under the prior laws.

Minister Fentiman noted some of the key reforms introduced in the Bill would include:

  • a single publication rule (for multiple publications of the same defamation matter) to provide simplicity around the one-year limitation reporting period;
  • a serious harm threshold to be established by a party taking action for defamation and a requirement to issue a concerns notice prior to going to court;
  • two new defences, including a public interest defence and a defence applying to peer-reviewed statements/assessments in a scientific or academic journal; and
  • greater clarification around the cap on damages for non-economic loss, setting the upper limit on a scale and applying regardless of whether aggravated damages apply.

“These updates to our laws around defamation have been proposed after considerable consultation with the public, legal and academic experts, and stakeholders,” Minister Fentiman said.

“Guidance has also been provided by case law from both Australia and overseas, and having regard to advancements in technology during this time.”

In July 2020, Attorneys-General from each state and territory came together to support the enactment of major reform to the law of defamation that would be consistent at a national level.

Stage two of the review of the Model Defamation Provisions is currently underway and will focus on the responsibilities and liability of digital platforms for defamatory conduct and the defences applying to disclosures of criminal conduct and misconduct in the workforce.

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