Ms PATTEN (Northern Metropolitan) (10:02:08):
I move: That the bill be now read a second time.
Opinion columnist Amy Gray has regularly received abusive and threatening messages. ‘You are just another bipolar whore who (bleep) and (bleep) (bleep) for cash and free drinks ugly pig’. In response to a column about global terrorism—she received messages calling her an ‘(effing) Arab lover’ who would be beheaded and raped with a knife.
Freelance sports writer Erin Riley has for years received daily online abuse, including rape and death threats, as well as being the target of several huge mob attacks. During the first of these ‘pile-ons’ she received over 2000 messages over a two-day period involving ‘every kind of abuse possible’.
AFLW footballer Tayla Harris said she was worried for her safety at matches, even when signing autographs for young fans, after she was the target of online abuse in March this year. Tayla’s manager said that the trolling was ‘pretty common, especially in the direct messages section of Instagram’. She called the messages the players received ‘astonishing, threatening, violating. It’s horrific’.
These women are resilient, but they receive swarms of vile harassment—real messages, sent and received by real people—with very real effect. It can even be organised abuse, as we learned from ‘Gamergate’. Online hate speech is not confined to women with public profiles.
Three in 10 women have experienced online abuse or harassment—this rate increases enormously for women under 24. Of women who have experienced online abuse or harassment, 37 per cent said that they had felt that their physical safety was threatened.
Victoria understands family violence. We instituted a royal commission and we are implementing all of its 227 recommendations. We accept that ‘we must change community attitudes towards women if we are to prevent violence from happening in the first place’, to quote the Premier of Victoria.
Yet we have done little to address this type of violence against women where it is most pervasive. Hate speech lives and breeds in social media feeds and the comments sections of news articles; it is shaming, bullying and brutalising via the everyday mediums that we use to communicate and consume media.
Bullying in this form has led to suicide. It causes physical, psychological and emotional harm. It affects people’s sense of self-worth and feelings of safety and belonging in the community.
We authorise hate speech if we do not act to prevent it—hate speech that if left unchecked can embed discrimination and prejudice; hate speech that can lead to hate crime, which does not occur in a vacuum. It is the violent manifestation of prejudice in the wider community.
Eighteen years ago Victoria recognised this in introducing laws to prevent vilification based on race and religion. Today I introduce this bill, which amends and renames the act to the Elimination of Vilification Act and extends the protections under the act to vilification based on gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.
Vilification is public hate speech that threatens or incites hatred and violence against another person, or group of persons, based on who they are, not something they might have done. It is also behaviour that incites serious contempt, revulsion or severe ridicule.
The bill that I present today draws on laws in other Australian jurisdictions, including New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, where vilification based on sexual orientation, gender identity and other attributes is already prohibited. Hate conduct is a very real issue for the LGBTIQ+ community.
The Australian Human Rights Commission has reported that six in 10 people from that community experienced verbal homophobic abuse and one in five experienced physical abuse in a 12-month period—a roll of a dice every year as to whether you will be physically assaulted just because of your identity or your sexuality.
One LGBTIQ+ helpline is experiencing an increase in calls for assistance but is also receiving direct hate calls at an escalating rate. Last month that helpline received nine vicious and vilifying calls that were directly harmful to the queer volunteers who staff the service.
Hate speech also impacts Victorians living with a disability, who are often its silent and most vulnerable victims. In turning to the structure and key elements of the bill, clause 4 renames the principal act as the Elimination of Vilification Act to reflect its broadened purpose.
Clause 6 extends the purposes of the principal act to include protection from vilification based on the new protected attributes.
Clause 7 inserts further definitions into the principal act.
Clause 8 inserts new section 3A into the principal act, which extends the attributes protected by the act to race, religious belief or activity, gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and sex characteristics.
Clause 10 extends unlawful vilification under the act to the new protected attributes and amends the threshold test for vilification so that it does not exceed the threshold for serious vilification.
Clauses 16 and 17 insert new powers to require information, principally to allow the commissioner to identify a respondent to a complaint. This is an important aspect of the bill in enabling a response to trolling, which is often anonymous.
Clause 18 extends the serious vilification offences under the act to include the new protected attributes. For consistency with other Australian jurisdictions, it amends the fault element to ‘intentionally or recklessly’ and replaces the subjective test of ‘offender knows’ with an objective (reasonable person) test.
Clause 22 inserts the relevant transitional provisions, including a renaming savings provision. In a cohesive society that embraces diversity and supports human rights, it is not okay to vilify someone because of who they are. It is not okay to incite violence and hatred against a group of people. It is not okay to shame, bully and brutalise online. It is not okay to passively condone this culture by doing nothing.
The Racial and Religious Tolerance Amendment Bill 2019 gives Victorians a reason to take personal responsibility for their words and actions. It draws a clear line as to the racist, homophobic and gendered hate speech that we will not tolerate in Victoria.
I conclude with this comment sent to writer and disability advocate Carly Findlay in response to her article on disability slurs in the AFL. It said:
‘Seriously? We call them retards because you should never have been born. The sad fact is you were, so why should the able bodied tread on eggshells around you? It is us you should be thanking for the roof over your head the meals that you eat and all the free medical and welfare you get … the day of the rope draws nearer with every (effing) online whinge post you make’.
The standard you walk past is the standard you accept. I will not be walking past Carly on this. I commend the bill to the house.
Fiona Patten MP
Leader of Reason
Member for Northern Metropolitan Region
Second reading speech given 28/8/19