Tuesday, 14 January 2020 20:55

Symbols of hate cause very real harm to Victoria’s Jewish community

Vilification cropped

Distressing news reports emerged earlier this week about a Nazi flag flying above a house in regional Victoria.

The symbols on that flag are more than just lines and colours – they represent hate and trauma for so many people around the world, including the members of Victoria’s Jewish community. To display that flag publicly is reprehensible – it runs counter to community values and the importance Victorians place on inclusion and diversity. It has no place in this state.

The swastika has been used as a symbol of hate – and, importantly, as a symbol to incite hatred – since the 1930s. We know that its public display continues to cause enormous harm to members of Victoria’s Jewish community – in its 2019 report on antisemitism in the community, the Executive Council of Australian Jewry reported an increase in antisemitic incidents overall and, worryingly, a marked increase in serious incidents. Melbourne has one of the largest Holocaust survivor communities in the world.

In Victoria, the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 is designed to protect members of vulnerable groups from vilification. Though it has been in force for nearly two decades, this law has resulted in very few successful convictions – in fact, there has been only one successful criminal prosecution and few civil cases. One of the challenges facing people who make a vilification complaint under the Act is its very high threshold for showing that vilification has occurred – it must be clear that the conduct incited others to ridicule or feel hatred, serious contempt or revulsion for the victim.

There’s an important conversation underway in Victoria at the moment about strengthening Victoria’s protections against vilification – the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee is considering the adequacy of Victoria’s anti-vilification laws and what could create a more robust framework for managing hate speech while still respecting freedom of expression.

We know that some groups within the community remain vulnerable to vilification. Expanding the range of attributes protected from vilification to include other vulnerable groups – for example, women, LGBTIQ people and people with a disability – and lowering the threshold for civil and criminal vilification are two important ways that we can better enable all Victorians to live their lives free from vilification.

A robust anti-vilification framework plays an essential role in protecting vulnerable groups from hate, whether on the street, on public transport, at work, online or through the media. Education, community involvement, and improved data collection and regulation will be key aspects of bringing anti-vilification laws to life.

No Victorian should have to endure hate because of where they come from, what they believe or any other personal attribute.

How we can help

If you have been discriminated against, harassed or vilified because of your race or religion, you can make a complaint to the Commission.

Our free, fair and timely dispute resolution service can help you to resolve your complaint – phone us on 1300 292 153, email [email protected] or make a complaint online. The Commission also accepts complaints from third-party representatives.

Media contact

Peter Davies
0447 526 642
Email: [email protected] 

Lodge a complaint with us