Creating stronger laws to protect Victorians from hate conduct
Our vision: For all Victorians to be able to live free from hate conduct in our community through stronger legal protections.
The Racial and Religious Tolerance Act (RRTA) only applies to racial and religious vilification
This is despite the fact that many other groups can be victims of hate, such as LGBTIQ people, women and people with disabilities. Almost all LGBTIQ young people have experienced abuse because of their identity. Studies show about half of Australia’s young women have experienced online abuse. People with a disability continue to experience verbal abuse and offensive language in public places.
Hate conduct can have profound negative impacts on individuals and communities
Hate conduct, such has hate speech an online abuse, impacts people’s dignity, sense of self-worth and belonging in a community. It diminishes an individual’s ability to fully participate and contribute to society. It can also have a broad ripple effect beyond an immediate victim, to witnesses and even perpetrators, and can incite others to perpetrate hate.
The threshold for vilification is too high and is difficult to prove
A major problem of the current incitement test in the RRTA is that it focuses on the impact of a witness to hate conduct, not on the victim who experiences the harm.
There have been few complaints and prosecutions under the RRTA
Since 2002, there have only been two successful cases of vilification before VCAT under the RRTA (Khalil v Sturgess ; Ordo Templi Orientis v Legg ) and three prosecutions of serious vilification by Victoria Police, only one of which was successful (Cottrell v Ross ).
The RRTA does not allow for representative complaints without the need to name individual complainants
The fear of victimisation and retaliation can prevent people from making a complaint who might otherwise feel safe to be represented anonymously.
The RRTA does not empower the Commission to identify respondents
In some instances of alleged vilification – for example, instances where the conduct has occurs in a public place or online – a complainant may not know the name of the alleged offender.
The Commission does not currently have power to address underlying causes and drive system change
The RRTA places a significant burden on individual complainants who have experienced vilification, rather than recognising and addressing the harm to the broader community.
We need to shift the burden of responding to hate from individual victims and instead create a system that can drive change. As the regulator of the RRTA, the Commission is well positioned to play a greater role.
Incorporate Victoria’s vilification laws into the Equal Opportunity Act to make them more accessible
Victorians know and use the Equal Opportunity Act, so incorporating vilification protections into it would support better awareness and use of hate laws in Victoria and ensure a consistent approach to preventing and responding to discrimination, sexual harassment and vilification.
Expand the scope of anti-vilification protections to include other attributes
Including protections for LGBTIQ people, women and people with disabilities would reflect community expectations that all people must be protected from hate conduct.
Simplify the threshold for vilification from conduct that incites to conduct that expresses or is reasonably likely to incite
This approach would ensure that the law captures conduct that expresses strong negative emotions because of a person’s identity and that is capable of incitement, without requiring proof of incitement. The focus of this test is on the respondent’s conduct rather than that of a third party or audience.
This test would ensure effective redress for individual and systemic harms.
Introduce a new complementary harm-based civil provision
This test would be an objective assessment of the harm caused and experienced from the perspective of the target, rather than having to provide evidence that a third party was motivated to act in a hateful way.
Introduce a single more accessible serious vilification test in the Crimes Act
This would improve visibility of hate as a crime and streamline Victoria Police enforcement
The dispute resolution framework should be strengthened
The Commission needs stronger powers to receive and resolve complaints of vilification, particularly in the age of anonymous online abuse.
At present, we can only accept complaints with named respondents. However, with appropriate powers, the Commission could compel the provision of documents to help identify potential perpetrators who hide behind online anonymity and engage them in our voluntary dispute resolution process.
Law reform should enable representative complaints without the need to name individual complainants. This would encourage reporting, alleviate the very real fear of victimisation and improve the redress available for groups who experience hate.
Work we are doing
The Commission has made submissions to a range of inquiries and reviews, including: Freedom of Speech of Inquiry of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights; the Review of Identity Motivated Hate Crime (Eames Review); and the Australian Government’s consultation on proposed amendments to the RDA.
Most recently, the Commission made a Submission to the Parliamentary inquiry into anti-vilification protections. Our submission was informed by interviews and community consultations with multicultural and multifaith communities, LGBTIQ, gender equality, disability and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders stakeholders. Our Commissioner, Kristen Hilton, also appeared at the public hearing.
The Commission has developed a Community Reporting Tool using human centered design principles, enabling community members to confidentially report experiences of discrimination and vilification to the Commission. The tool aims to increase accessibility to the Commission, particularly for African and Muslim communities. The stories and information we receive through the Community Reporting Tool informs our advocacy efforts – for example, throughout the pandemic, we have seen a worrying increase in reports of racism towards people of Asian backgrounds. Use of our Community Reporting Tool has more than doubled since early March 2020, with the majority of reports regarding racial vilification. We used this data to engage with the government on the need for strategies to tackle racism in the community.
As part of the Multicultural and Multifaith Engagement Action Plan 2018–22, the Commission developed and implemented Reducing Racism, a project designed to tackle hate experienced by African and Muslim communities. The Commission worked closely with these communities to support them to exercise their rights by delivering co-designed education programs and resources to ensure that people could both understand and exercise their rights and establishing an African Ambassadors program.
In the six years between 1 January 2013 and 31 December 2019, the Commission provided 61 education and information sessions, attended by 1872 participants in total, on racial and religious vilification under the RRTA.
The Commission also hosted consultations in June 2019 with faith leaders in collaboration with the Australian Human Rights Commission to better understand their experiences of serious harm including vilification, and the barriers in relation to the RRTA.
Progress on reform
On 2 September 2021, the Victorian Government responded to the Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee report on its inquiry into anti-vilification protections in Victoria.
We are pleased to note the government’s in-principle support for the committee’s recommendations which, when implemented, will strengthen Victoria’s ability to prevent and respond to hate directed against people in our community. The Victorian Government’s response makes clear that the experiences shared by the community through the inquiry make a real difference, acknowledging the prevalence of vilification in Victoria and the serious harms that result from such behaviour.
We look forward to working with the government to implement the committee’s recommendations and will continue to share with the community how they can participate in future consultations.