Report paves way towards a fairer, safer Victoria for everyone
Victorian Equal Opportunity & Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton today welcomed the final report of the Legal and Social Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into Anti-Vilification Protection in Victoria
“As the regulator of Victoria’s current anti-vilification law – the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act 2001 – we have seen firsthand both the significant harms caused by vilification and other hate speech, as well as the limitations of our existing laws in being able to prevent and respond to those harms,” said Commissioner Kristen Hilton.
“Today, Parliament’s Legal and Social Affairs Committee has given us a roadmap for the reforms that must be implemented in order to ensure that Victoria is a fair, safe and inclusive place for all. We know that words and actions can wound, and the reforms recommended by the Committee, if implemented, will be critical for both preventing harm and enabling us to better respond when it occurs.”
The Committee’s final report is informed by many Victorians who have experienced vilification and concludes that our state’s response to hateful conduct must be strengthened. The report contains 36 recommendations, including:
- extending vilification protections to include gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, sex characteristics, and HIV/AIDS status, in addition to race and religion;
- incorporating vilification protections into the Equal Opportunity Act, and introducing a positive duty for organisations to prevent vilification;
- simplifying and lowering the civil and criminal test for hate conduct, with a focus on the harm caused to an individual;
- criminalising the display of Nazi symbols;
- expanding the powers and responsibilities of the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, including increasing and funding investigation powers, and enabling the Commission to receive representative complaints; and
- delivering greater community education and awareness of the harm caused by vilification.
“The recommendations put forward by the Legal and Social Affairs Committee are in line with our own views as to how the law can best be strengthened to be more effective, and we are heartened to see the bipartisan support that exists for these reforms,” said Commissioner Hilton. “Progressing this reform is urgent. The recent COVID-19 pandemic brought into sharp relief the racism, in particular, that continues to permeate in our community, with the Commission receiving an eight fold increase in enquiries about racial vilification compared with the year before.”
“The burden that currently rests on individuals who experience hate to either tolerate it, or come forward to complain about it is unacceptable.” said Commissioner Hilton. “This report confirms that with better awareness, greater resources and changes to the law, we can do much to prevent and respond to harm and hurt in our community. We will all be better for it, and we look forward to working with Government to implement these important recommendations.’