NSW has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to usher in new defamation laws, passing reforms the state government says will better protect journalists, unclog courts and rein in skyrocketing payouts.
The changes, agreed on by all states and territories at last month's Council of Attorneys General meeting, will modernise the existing defamation laws which were introduced in the early days of social media.
"These reforms represent a generational change in the way Australia's legal system will protect reputations from serious harm while encouraging responsible free speech," said NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman, who spearheaded the push for reform.
The reforms will introduce a public interest defence for journalists, and a defence for peer reviewed material in scientific and academic journals.
Other key changes include:
* A "single publication rule" starting limitation periods from the first upload of the alleged defamatory material, rather than the last click on it.
* A "serious harm" threshold for defamation claims, aimed at keeping trivial matters out of court.
* A requirement for plaintiffs to issue a concerns notice before going to court to encourage resolutions.
* A cap on non-economic damage payouts.
The government is still consulting on when the laws will come in to effect, but will continue to work on a second tranche of reforms that will clarify the responsibility of internet platforms for the defamatory materials on their sites.
Australian Associated Press