The inquiry is the response to Fiona Patten MP's Elimination of Vilification Bill, which seeks to expand protections under the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to other groups of Victorians.
"Fiona Patten's Bill provided a welcome opportunity for a much-needed conversation about hate speech and vilification, and how, in its different forms, it affects different groups in our community. It's a critical issue we must address" said Commission Hilton.
The Committee will consider the effectiveness of the operation of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, the success or enforcement of the Act and the appropriateness of sanctions. It will also consider the interaction between the Act and other state and Commonwealth legislation, which is critical given the Australian Government's Religious Discrimination Bill and other federal law developments. We are also encouraged that the inquiry will consider the role of state legislation in addressing online vilification.
The Commission has long advocated for reform of Victoria's vilification laws to expand protections to other groups that we know experience serious harm as a result of harmful speech and vilification, including members of the LGBTIQ community, women and people with disability.
"In its 17 years of operation, only three cases of vilification have been successful before the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and only one criminal offence of serious vilification has been successfully prosecuted. We need to strengthen the law to make it more accessible and effective in addressing hate speech in its various forms," said Commissioner Hilton.
The Commission has consistently heard about the prolific and damaging examples of online abuse targeted towards the LGBTIQ community, particularly during the marriage equality debate and, more recently, in relation to birth registration reform.
We have also seen a barrage of online hate targeting women who have spoken publicly about their experiences of sexual harassment and abuse. Many of us were shocked to see the plethora of sexualised and derogatory comments directed towards ALFW player Tayla Harris following her being profiled for her athleticism and success.
We look forward to engaging with the Committee to share our experiences monitoring the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 and will monitor the progress of the Committee closely.
The Legal and Social Issues Committee will report by 1 September 2020.
If you have been experienced discrimination, harassment or racial and religious vilification, you can make a complaint to the Commission on 1300 292 153 or via our online complaint form.
The Commission offers a free, fair and timely dispute-resolution service that can help to resolve complaints of vilification, discrimination and sexual harassment.
Mobile: 0447 526 642