Wednesday, 22 June 2022

Statements on parliamentary committee reports

Legal and Social Issues Committee

Legal and Social Issues Committee

Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protections

Mr TAK (Clarinda) (10:32): The Legal and Social Issues Committee was referred an inquiry into anti-vilification protections in September 2019. We were asked to examine whether Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 was achieving its objectives, considering the low number of complaints made under the act while the incidence of vilification and hate conduct was increasing. The committee tabled its report in March 2021. The committee received 62 submissions, with 11 supplementary submissions, and held seven days of public hearings. I would like to thank everyone who participated in the inquiry and gave firsthand evidence of their experiences of vilification to the committee. We heard that vilification is common among people who identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Muslims, Jews, women, LGBTIQ+ and those who have a disability. Vilification comes in many forms and is often frequent and repeated, creating a harmful impact on mental health. The rise of online vilification only exacerbates the issue.

We also heard that many Victorians were unaware of anti-vilification laws or they understood vilification differently to the legal definition of incitement. The legal definition also does not reflect the hate and abuse that people experience online or in person. Consequently the 20-year-old legislation was hard to use and not fit for purpose to assist victims to exercise their rights. The public display of Nazi symbolism was a common theme during the inquiry, and the committee wanted to send a clear message that this is harmful, offensive and unacceptable. We recommended that the display of symbols of Nazi ideology become a criminal offence so these symbols could be removed immediately if they were deliberately displayed to vilify others. I am pleased that this recommendation has been drafted into legislation that recently passed this house and also passed the other house as of yesterday. Victoria is once again leading the way in the nation by banning Nazi symbolism thanks to the Labor government.

Overall the committee made 36 recommendations to try to prevent vilification, strengthen law enforcement and address online vilification, including by lowering the legal threshold for incitement-based vilification, introducing a harm-based vilification provision to make it easier to prove a complaint, supporting individuals and communities affected by vilification and helping them to navigate the reporting process, strengthening the powers of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to shift the burden away from the individuals and setting up prevention initiatives in the area of school-based education, responsible media reporting and a public awareness campaign. I would like to take this opportunity—

Members interjecting.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! Members, I am having trouble hearing the member for Clarinda. There is too much audible conversation in the chamber.

Mr TAK: Thank you, Deputy Speaker. I would like to acknowledge the hard work of my fellow committee members and the support and commitment of the staff who worked so hard on this inquiry. Implementing the report’s recommendations and strengthening anti-vilification laws will not only protect individuals and the community but also promote harmony and cohesion in our society. It is only Victoria that makes this possible.

Business interrupted in accordance with resolution of house of 9 June.