Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:29): I lay on the table a statement of compatibility with the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006:
In accordance with section 28 of the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 (the charter), I make this statement of compatibility with respect to the Crimes Amendment (Abolition of Blasphemy) Bill 2019. In my opinion, the Bill, as introduced to the Legislative Council, is compatible with human rights as set out in the charter. I base my opinion on the reasons outlined in this statement.
of bill The purpose of the Crimes Amendment (Abolition of Blasphemy) Bill 2019 is to abolish the common law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel, to the extent that they form part of the common law of Victoria.
Human rights issues
The Crimes Amendment (Abolition of Blasphemy) Bill 2019 does not limit any human right, rather it engages and promotes the right to equality before the law set out in section 8 of the charter and the right to freedom of expression as set out in section 15 of the charter. The Bill implements recommendations of the United Nations Human Rights Committee. As the Bill does not limit any human rights, it is not necessary to consider section 7 (2) of the charter.
I consider that the Bill is compatible with the charter because it does not raise any human rights issues.
Fiona Patten MLC
Leader of the Reason Party
Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:29): I move: That the bill be now read a second time. Blasphemy is still a crime in Victoria—and it shouldn’t be. Queensland has abolished it. Western Australia has abolished it. New Zealand has abolished it. Canada has abolished it.
Even the United Kingdom, from whom we inherited the offence in the first place, has abolished it. The recent Religious Freedom Review, chaired by Philip Ruddock, recommend that we abolish it.
The United Nations recommend that we abolish it. This bill acts on that advice.
Blasphemy is not a vilification law; it is not a discrimination law.
It makes a crime of offending Christian sensibilities or, more specifically, protecting Christian doctrine from ‘scurrilous commentary’.
As our Federal Court has described:
The essence of the crime of blasphemy is to publish words concerning the Christian religion which are so scurrilous and offensive as to pass the limits of decent controversy and to be calculated to outrage the feelings of any sympathiser with or believer in Christianity.
The fundamental issue with blasphemy laws is that they give preferential treatment to Christianity over other religions. In doing so they cut across the human right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as interpreted by the United Nations and enshrined in the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities.
In Victoria we have sufficient anti-vilification and anti-discrimination laws to protect against the harms that ‘blasphemous’ conduct might cause a person or class of persons. We do not need this archaic relic that in itself is a vehicle for prejudice. Blasphemy has not been prosecuted in Australia since 1919.
However, in 1997 George Pell did seek an injunction against the National Gallery of Victoria on the basis of blasphemous libel, in relation to the display of the contentious Piss Christ artwork.
Irrespective of its infrequent application, inactive or unused blasphemy laws in one country still lend legitimacy to more severe and more actively used blasphemy laws in other countries.
For example, the blasphemy laws in Ireland have been openly used to justify their continued existence in Indonesia—where people have been sentenced to jail terms simply for posting about atheism on Facebook.
In recent years a Pakistani man was jailed for a Facebook post containing derogatory remarks about the prophet Mohammed and a Mauritian ‘blasphemer’ was jailed for two years, after spending four years on remand.
Prosecutions are on the rise internationally, and we should not be sending signals of support from Victoria.
Our blasphemy laws violate the human right to freedom of expression. They protect Christian institutions and leaders from legitimate and often necessary criticism.
They are intrinsically bad, subjective and inconsistent laws. Internationally, they have been demonstrated to legitimise vigilantism, mob violence and the persecution of minorities. We can be better.
Turning to the specifics of the bill: Its purpose is to abolish the common-law offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel to the extent that they form part of the common law of Victoria.
The bill would come into operation on the day after it receives royal assent. The bill in its totality inserts new section 322AB into the Crimes Act 1958 titled ‘Offences of blasphemy and blasphemous libel abolished’. That new section reads: ‘Any distinct offences under the common law of blasphemy and blasphemous libel are abolished.’
The bill also provides for the automatic repeal of the amending act. This bill is a simple one, but it sends an important signal that we will treat all Victorians equally. I commend this bill to the house.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading 28/11/19