In its submission to the Victorian Parliament’s inquiry into the state’s anti-vilification protections, the Commission calls for hate protections to be expanded beyond the current Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001, to protect other groups vulnerable to hate, such as women, LGBTIQ people and people with disabilities.
“The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act has been in operation for some 18 years, but it’s complex, narrow and ill-equipped to deal with world we find ourselves in today. We need a clearer, stronger law that properly takes account of harmful, hateful conduct in both the online and physical worlds,” says Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton.
“As the state regulator for human rights and equal opportunity, we receive complaints from many groups within the community who continue to experience hate, and it’s not just confined to race and religion. Women, the LGBTOIQ community and people with disabilities are all disproportionately affected by vilification.”
The Commission also recommends a clearer threshold to determine when vilification has occurred. This means introducing a new test that looks at the harm a person experiences, in addition to a test that looks at whether someone has incited hatred.
“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 towards the victim,” says Commissioner Hilton. “A harm-based test would enable the law to better reflect the impact of hate in the community.”
Stronger enforcement powers should underpin new anti-vilification protections, the Commission says, enabling both Victoria Police and the Commission itself to more effectively tackle hate in the community. “Strengthening our enforcement powers would allow us to not just resolve complaints, but to target the underlying issues that perpetuate systemic vilification,” says Commissioner Hilton. “The current law places a heavy burden on individual complainants, and this is an opportunity to strengthen protections for the most vulnerable in our community.”
To bring strong anti-vilification protections to life, the Commission’s submission proposes tailored training for police, prosecutors and judicial officers supported by engaging public awareness campaigns to help Victorians understand the law and exercise their rights.
“Every Victorian has the right to live their life free from hate – we need robust, enforceable laws to make sure that’s a reality for all parts of our community,” says Commissioner Hilton.
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