Tuesday, 16 May 2023


Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment (Anti-vilification) Bill 2023

Gabrielle DE VIETRI, Mary-Anne THOMAS, Sam HIBBINS, Will FOWLES, James NEWBURY, Vicki WARD

Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment (Anti-vilification) Bill 2023


Gabrielle DE VIETRI (Richmond) (12:07): I move:

That I introduce a bill for an act to amend the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 to prohibit the vilification of persons on the grounds of gender, sexuality, disability, intersex status or HIV/AIDS status and for other purposes.

This year we have seen the far right converge on the steps of Parliament with anti-trans groups, members of Parliament using their platform to spout anti-trans hate and family-friendly events cancelled due to threats from the far right. Our current laws do not protect people from these harmful actions. While the existing legislation protects against hate speech and vilification on the basis of race and religion, it fails to protect people on the basis of sexuality, gender, gender expression, HIV/AIDS status, intersex status or disability. As lawmakers it is our job to make sure that all Victorians are fully protected. By expanding the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act we can make it clear that we will not accept hate speech and vilification.

This is a matter of urgency. It is not just a few stray zealots; these are well-organised, coordinated campaigns of hate. The far right is growing and growing bolder. Yet another IDAHOBIT event was cancelled last night – that is, International Day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia. The very purpose of this day is to fight hatred and vilification, but this year alone we have seen over 10 inclusive family-friendly council events for queer people cancelled because of threats from the far right. What message does this send to our young queer folk? Drag performers and councils have been inundated with threats of violence. They have cancelled out of concern for the safety of their community members and concern for their staff. Drag performers, who contribute so much to our communities, are losing gigs and facing vitriol. We need to move quickly to stamp out this dangerous movement of hatred and vilification. It is forcing our queer community underground. It is entrenching fear, hatred and shame.

Let us be a society where every Victorian can be proud of who they are, where they can be safe and protected. Denying the LGBTIQA+ community legal protections, people with disability legal protections and people who are HIV/AIDS-positive legal protections perpetuates fear. We need to send a clear message now to the far right that their hatred will not be tolerated. We know that members of our queer community face disproportionate rates of self-harm and suicide. Every day we allow hate speech to continue we tell another young queer person that they are not valid, not loved and not safe. We cannot afford to wait any longer.

I am urging MPs in this house to allow this bill to be considered. This addresses a rising problem. Inaction is a choice. Delay is a choice. What message will you be sending to your constituents, to your own friends and family members, if you will not even vote to discuss protecting people from hate speech? The time is now. There has been an inquiry. This government has given in-principle support to expanding the anti-vilification laws, and yet there has been no action. Not allowing it at the very least to be debated is simply undemocratic. We are elected representatives. We are here to serve our communities. Representing, advocating for and protecting our communities in all their diversity – that is what we are here to do.

I represent the people of my electorate, Richmond, where, statistically speaking, we are twice as queer as the rest of Victoria. For matters of such urgency I urge the government to overcome this culture that sees all non-government bills fail before they have even seen the light of day. As a progressive state and as believers in democracy it is important that all members of this house are able to bring forward bills that are important to their electorate. Living in your electorates are people who are queer, people who are living with disabilities, people who are intersex and people who are HIV-positive. All I ask is that you give us the opportunity to consider this bill. Marginalised Victorians whose very identities and whose very lives are under attack deserve protection from vilification. Thank you.

Mary-Anne THOMAS (Macedon – Leader of the House, Minister for Health, Minister for Health Infrastructure, Minister for Medical Research) (12:12): I want to be clear from the outset that our government has always stated that in this state equality is not negotiable. We have worked to implement this every single day. We are about action. What I want to say is that we believe that this is a significant issue, and that is why our Attorney-General is undertaking work and giving these elements or issues that have been raised due consideration. As the government of the day, we believe that proper cabinet processes should always be followed when it comes to legislating in this place. As the government’s normal practice in the house, we will not be supporting a bill raised by the Greens party in this place. I indicated earlier that this is an important issue that deserves a proper cabinet process, and that is what our government will deliver.

Sam HIBBINS (Prahran) (12:13): I rise to speak in support of the member for Richmond in moving to introduce a bill to amend and strengthen anti-vilification laws here in Victoria. There could not be a more appropriate time. At a time when our trans and gender-diverse communities are facing hate speech and are being targeted with vilification, there could not be a more appropriate time to allow – simply allow – a bill to go on the notice paper.

That is not even referring to the fact that members in this place do not have opportunities to debate their own bills and motions. The Leader of the House has stated that they should follow proper cabinet process. Well, there is absolutely nothing stopping a bill that is introduced in this place being considered by cabinet. It is a farcical and petty practice of this government to deny non-government members, whether they are from the Greens or other parties, even introducing a bill and putting it on the notice paper. It is a practice that needs to end, and I would urge all members to support the member for Richmond to allow this bill – this very important and timely bill – to go on the notice paper and to even go further so that we have non-government business in this place to allow very important laws like this to be debated and to be considered by cabinet.

Now is the time. The work has gone into this legislation by the member for Richmond. It is very important to make sure that our trans and gender-diverse communities are protected from the vilification and hate speech that they are facing, so I would urge all members to support it.

Will FOWLES (Ringwood) (12:15): I rise to address this motion put by the member for Richmond. It is important to re-emphasise that the Andrews Labor government believes that equality is non-negotiable. We believe that today; we believe that every day. We have delivered that in government, and it is a fundamental value of this government. But if you are going to make substantive change, if you are going to make sure that changes stick and if you going to make sure that they are properly considered, then you need to put them through the appropriate processes. It is not lost on members opposite, I am sure, that the lower house is the house of government and you need to have an appropriate set of processes around changes as important as the ones being foreshadowed by the Greens political party. I think it is just very, very important for us to understand that work is underway. It is very important work and it is subject to rigorous processes to ensure that what we land here is appropriate and proportionate, and that is why we need to let those processes work their way through.

James NEWBURY (Brighton) (12:16): I rise to speak on the Greens’ proposal to introduce a bill to expand anti-vilification laws to protect people on the basis of gender, sexuality, HIV status and disability. Many times in this chamber, in both this term and previous terms, this house has debated the fact that the government misuses this place and does not allow many important debates to occur on issues of importance in the community – issues that are raised by non-government members. Non-government business is stymied, and we see that here today with the government noting they will not allow the opportunity for the member for Richmond to introduce this bill. It is not necessarily about the substance of each bill, it is about the importance of non-government members being able to bring forward important issues into this chamber. The coalition will be supporting the Greens in their introduction, and it notes –

Members interjecting.

James NEWBURY: All the yelling of those opposite –

Members interjecting.

The SPEAKER: Order! The Manager of Opposition Business will be heard in silence.

James NEWBURY: All the yelling of those opposite does not take away from the fact that the government is about to oppose the introduction of this bill. Non-government members should be entitled to bring important debates into this chamber. Shame on those opposite – shame on their actions, not their words. Shame on them.

Vicki WARD (Eltham) (12:18): I think we know, at least on this side of the house, that actions are far more important than words, and standing by what you believe and making sure that you create legislation that actually matters and will make a difference is important. I appreciate what has been put before us. However, I would have to say that the unease which the Greens all showed as soon as they realised that the opposition would support them was pretty astonishing. This has to be done properly, and this government has been working incredibly hard to protect vulnerable people in our community, including our rainbow community. We will continue to do that, but it needs to be done in a way that is thorough. It needs to be done in a way that does not allow cracks and that does not allow holes. We need to do it properly, and that is exactly what this government is doing and will continue to do. We are not about stunts, we are actually about making a difference.

Assembly divided on motion:

Ayes (30): Brad Battin, Jade Benham, Roma Britnell, Tim Bull, Martin Cameron, Annabelle Cleeland, Chris Crewther, Gabrielle de Vietri, Wayne Farnham, Sam Groth, Sam Hibbins, David Hodgett, Emma Kealy, Tim McCurdy, Cindy McLeish, James Newbury, Danny O’Brien, Michael O’Brien, Kim O’Keeffe, John Pesutto, Tim Read, Richard Riordan, Brad Rowswell, Ellen Sandell, Ryan Smith, David Southwick, Bill Tilley, Peter Walsh, Kim Wells, Jess Wilson

Motion defeated.