Fraser Anning ordered to remove Facebook and Twitter posts that tribunal found vilified Muslims
Former Australian senator Fraser Anning has been ordered to remove 141 pieces of content from the internet after a Queensland tribunal found he breached anti-discrimination laws by vilifying Muslims.
- Two Muslim groups took action against Mr Anning in the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal
- One of the people behind the action said the tribunal’s decision would mend some of the hurt caused by Mr Anning’s response to the Christchurch massacre
- A legal expert says the case is significant because a politician has been found to have breached vilification laws with comments made while in office
The material was mainly shared on Twitter and Facebook, much of it while he was a senator for Queensland between 2017 and July 2019.
It includes memes, links to interviews featuring Mr Anning, calls to ban Islam in Australia, and criticism of an AFL training camp for young Muslims.
Mr Anning has also been ordered to remove a press release issued on the day of the Christchurch massacre which blamed Muslim immigration for the bloodshed.
The statement was released just hours after an Australian gunman killed 51 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.
Mr Anning was later censured by the Senate for his comments.
The Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) found Mr Anning breached state laws that ban the incitement of hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule on the grounds of religion.
Ruling will ‘mend a lot of the hurt’
The legal action was launched by the civil rights organisation Australian Muslim Advocacy Network (AMAN) and the Islamic Council of Queensland.
In their complaint, they noted one post from Mr Anning’s public Facebook page had almost 8,000 interactions and reached almost 315,000 people.
They also submitted comment threads to the tribunal in which followers of Mr Anning’s page incited violence against Muslim Australians.
Rita Jabri-Markwell, an adviser to AMAN, said she was motivated to bring the legal action by Mr Anning’s response to the Christchurch massacre.
“We were already feeling gutted but when we went and saw the social media, and the things he was saying, it was cruel,” she said.
“It makes you feel like you’re worthless, like you’re not part of Australia.”
“Politicians often think they have free licence to say what they want,” she said.
“That can embolden people to go and attack people from migrant backgrounds on the street, to attack them online.”
Ali Kadri, CEO of the Islamic College of Brisbane and a spokesperson for the Islamic Council of Queensland, said children at the school saw online content targeting their faith every day.
“There is a climate of fear created after Christchurch,” he said.
“That is real, and that threat is always looming in the back of our minds.”
On the day of the police visit, 14-year-old Danya Mustafa was among the students in the playground.
“I see a lot of stuff [online] and it hurts sometimes,” Danya said. “But that’s how the world is made I guess.
“I always try to skip or ignore it or share about it and educate my followers.”
“It might not be much, but it helps.”
Free speech for politicians ‘not absolute’
AMAN is now calling on Facebook and Twitter to take down accounts associated with Mr Anning.
It wants the Australian government to put more pressure on the platforms to enforce their own standards.
Ms Jabri-Markwell said content that had now been found to breach anti-vilification laws had been flagged with Facebook and Twitter.
Much of it remains there.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Facebook said the company did not allow hate speech and had invested in artificial intelligence to detect it before it was reported.
Neither Facebook nor Twitter have been ordered by the tribunal to remove any material.
When asked by the ABC whether they would do so voluntarily, neither committed to taking the posts down if Mr Anning or others running the accounts failed to act.
Katharine Gelber is the head of the University of Queensland’s School of Political Science and International Studies, and an expert on free speech and anti-discrimination laws.
She said this was the only incident she was aware of in which a politician had made comments while in office that were found to breach vilification laws.
“It’s really significant,” Professor Gelber said.
She said the decision showed politicians were not automatically covered by exemptions to vilification laws but said she was not concerned it would harm free speech.
Shutting down free speech doesn’t harm free speech. What an imbecile. Our universities are stuffed with them.
“What’s important here is that free speech is not absolute and that QCAT, as with other tribunals and courts in Australia, has said you can talk about policy in a way that doesn’t harm people,” she said.
If free speech is not absolute it is not free speech.
“But when you cross the line and start harming people, we have decided as a community that’s not acceptable to us.”
“Feelings hurt” does not harm people. Mohammedan headchoppers harm people.
From Australian senator to undischarged bankrupt
Mr Anning did not make any submissions to the tribunal and failed to appear at a compulsory conference for the matter.
The ABC could not reach him for comment.
It has previously been reported he is now living in the United States.
Mr Anning replaced Pauline Hanson’s One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts in the Senate in 2017 when Senator Roberts was forced out because he held dual citizenship.
Mr Anning quickly defected from the party to sit as an independent before joining Katter’s Australian Party, which in turn expelled him in October 2018.
Mr Anning founded his own party, Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party, but lost his seat at the 2019 election.
The party was deregistered by the Australian Electoral Commission in September 2020.
In March 2019, Mr Anning made global headlines when then-17-year-old Will Connolly cracked an egg on his head during an event in Melbourne the day after the Christchurch attack.
According to financial records, Mr Anning was declared bankrupt in March last year.
He is still able to appeal against the vilification decision.
If he does not appeal, the tribunal has ordered him to remove the material by August 27.
If the posts are not taken down, he could be held in contempt of court.
The applicants may also seek new orders forcing Facebook and Twitter to take the posts down themselves.