Committee recommends extending anti-vilification protections
By Nathan Kennedy and Anthony Hallal
In a report released this month, the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee recommended measures to extend anti-vilification protections. After seven days of public hearings, and having considered 73 submissions, the Committee concluded that the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 (Vic) has failed in its twin purposes of promoting racial and religious tolerance, and providing redress for victims.
The Committee observed that harassment and vilification both remain commonplace for Indigenous and African Victorians, and that instances of islamophobia and antisemitism are on the rise, while women, LGBTIQ+, and Victorians with disabilities also reported experiences of vilification. Moreover, the Committee noted an increase in racial threats and vilification directed at Asian communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Accordingly, in the Committee’s view, ‘it is essential that the Victorian Government implement legislative reform and complementary prevention-based strategies to reduce and eliminate vilification in Victoria’.
The report made 36 recommendations in total, including:
- Extending anti-vilification protections to include women, LGBTIQ+ people, people with HIV/AIDS, and people with disabilities.
- Streamlining the regime by moving vilification protections into the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 (Vic).
- Introducing a harm-based provision to assess vilification from the victim’s perspective.
- Extending the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission’s enforcement and investigative powers.
- Introducing a positive duty on organisations to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate vilification.
- Introducing a ‘recklessness’ provision to lower the threshold for criminal conduct, and reviewing maximum sentences so they are commensurate with other criminal offences.
- Amending civil incitement test from ‘conduct that incites’ to ‘conduct that is likely to incite’.
- Funding culturally appropriate services with a view to providing legal information, counselling and support to targeted communities; increasing funding to community legal centres for targeted litigation; and funding school and community-based education programs.
- Making it generally unlawful to display Nazi symbols.
At the time of writing, the Victorian Government was considering the Committee’s recommendations. A Government response is expected during the coming months.
This article was written with the assistance of Trevor Jones, Law Graduate.
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