Post Update #3: 12 January 2017
Contrary to the response received from the Department of Justice in November 2015 (included below), and commitments given by Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton in October 2015, the NSW Government did not release an Exposure Draft Bill to reform vilification laws in early 2016.
In fact, as noted by the Sydney Morning Herald in November 2016: “NSW Parliament has risen for the year without any action on reforms promised by the NSW Attorney-General to ethnic communities a year ago to make it easier to prosecute serious racial vilification cases in the state.”
That means there has been an entire year of inaction on much-needed reforms to vilification laws, that would have not only strengthened racial vilification laws, but also harmonised provisions across the different grounds for vilification (including homosexual, transgender and HIV/AIDS vilification).
This inaction is incredibly disappointing given that same 12-month period has seen a wide range of homophobic and transphobic public debate in NSW, and across Australia (see 2016: Annus Homophobicus). Hopefully 2017 will see this situation change – although, based on the past year, I certainly won’t be holding my breath.
Post Update #2: 23 December 2015
I received the following response to my letter (below) on 19 November 2015, not from the Attorney-General Ms Upton, but instead from the Director of the Community Relations Unit in the Department of Justice [and apologies for the delay in posting before now]:
“I refer to your email to the Attorney General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, about your concerns regarding a review of the NSW racial vilification laws. The Attorney General has asked me to reply on her behalf.
NSW is one of the most culturally, linguistically and religiously diverse
communities in the world. To protect the diversity of our community, the
Government has committed to amending the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 (the Act), in particular the racial vilification laws.
Currently, the vilification offences make it clear that for vilification to
be an offence it must threaten violence or incite others to threaten
As you are aware, the New South Wales Legislative Council’s Law and Justice Committee conducted a review of racial vilification laws in New South Wales, in particular section 20D of the Act.
Section 20D of the Act makes it a criminal offence to incite hatred
towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of
persons on the grounds of race by means which include; threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.
In its Report, the Committee concluded that improvements were required to the Act. These improvements include allowing the President of the
Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints directly to the NSW Police,
extending the time limit for commencing prosecutions from six months to 12 months and clarifying reckless actions are sufficient to establish an
intention to incite under section 20D.
In light of the Committee’s Report, the NSW Government considers the racial vilification offence and other vilification offences relating to
homosexuality, HIV/AIDS status and transgender status in the Act also need revising.
The Government intends to release for public consultation an exposure draft Bill amending the State’s vilification laws, with legislation to be
introduced into Parliament in the first half of 2016. Details regarding the
draft exposure Bill will be released in early 2016.
Thank you for taking the time to write about this issue.
Community Relations Unit
NSW Department of Justice”
Post Update #1: 1 November 2015
The NSW Attorney-General, the Hon Gabrielle Upton MP, announced the NSW Government’s position of vilification reforms on Monday 19 October 2015.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald[i]:
“The government will overhaul hate speech laws in NSW following the terror attack at Parramatta police headquarters and calls from the opposition for stronger laws to clamp down on ‘radical preachers’.
Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said the government will strengthen and streamline racial vilification laws, defying right-wing commentators who have previously said proposed reforms were ‘straight out of the Leninist playbook.’
Ms Upton said recent events had ‘reinforced the necessarily of being vigilant to and guarding against the spread of racial vilification’.”
Importantly, the Guardian[ii] also reported that “LGBTIQ groups have been lobbying for hate speech against members of their communities to be included in any new laws and it is understood the proposed changes would include them” although it did not provide any further information on this issue.
This response obviously gives hope that vilification provisions contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 may finally be amended to be genuinely LGBTI inclusive, although it will be important to closely scrutinise the Government’s exposure draft Bill, which is expected to be released for public consultation in January 2016.
One final cause for optimism – on the day before Attorney-General Upton’s announcement, the Leader of the NSW Opposition, Luke Foley, made a similar commitment on vilification reform. As reported by samesame[iii]:
“The Labor opposition in New South Wales wants to ensure people who promote or advocate violence based on race, gender or sexual orientation are punished under the law.”
All we need to do now is hold both the Liberal-National Government, and Labor Opposition, to their public commitments.
[i] “Hate speech overhaul to try to spread of racial vilification”, Sydney Morning Herald, 19 October 2015: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/hate-speech-overhaul–to-try-to-stop-spread-of-racial-vilification-20151018-gkbukb.html
[ii] “New South Wales hate speech laws to clamp down on ‘violent extremists’”, The Guardian, 19 October 2015: http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2015/oct/19/new-south-wales-hate-speech-laws-to-clamp-down-on-violent-extremists
[iii] “NSW Opposition: ‘Hate speech should be a crime’”, samesame, 19 October 2015: http://www.samesame.com.au/news/12884/NSW-opposition-Hate-speech-should-be-a-crime
Original Post: 16 October 2015
The Hon Gabrielle Upton MP
GPO Box 5341
Sydney NSW 2001
Friday 16 October 2015
REFORMS TO NSW ANTI-VILIFICATION LAWS
I am writing to you on the subject of possible changes to anti-vilification laws in the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977(‘the Act’), as flagged by you in two tweets on 18 September 2015[i], and as confirmed in an article which appeared in The Australian on 23 September 2015, in which your spokesperson “said the NSW government was ‘working towards reform’ in the area”.[ii]
Specifically, I am writing to seek your assurance that any reforms to anti-vilification laws will apply equally across all grounds of vilification, including homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification which are also included in the Act, and will not prioritise racial vilification as more important, or worthy of punishment, than vilification on the basis of other attributes.
Instead, I urge you and the Liberal-National Government to ensure that anti-vilification laws apply fairly both to members of NSW’s ethnic communities, and to the state’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.
To begin with, I note that currently the provisions of the Anti-Discrimination Act only protect lesbian, gay[iii] and transgender[iv] members of the LGBTI community. There is no legal protection for bisexual and intersex people against vilification on the basis of who they are (or against discrimination more broadly, for that matter).
If reforms are to be made to anti-vilification laws in NSW, then the specific inclusion of bisexual and intersex people in the Act must be a priority.
Even more concerningly, I note that there is a discrepancy in the penalties for vilification which are contained in the Act, depending on the attribute which is involved.
For example, while the maximum penalty for homosexual and transgender vilification by an individual is set at “10 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both”[v], the penalty for racial or HIV vilification by an individual is set at “50 penalty units or imprisonment for 6 months, or both.”[vi]
Given the vast majority of prosecutions for vilification offences in NSW are unlikely to result in imprisonment, the consequence of this discrepancy is to send the message to the community, whether intentionally or otherwise, that racial and HIV vilification is five times more important, or worthy of punishment, than homosexual or transgender vilification.
I find this message to be inherently offensive – that equivalent acts of vilification should attract differing penalties simply because it involved sexual orientation or gender identity rather than race. I sincerely hope that you agree – and that you will therefore commit to harmonising the penalties for vilification contained in the Act.
However, I am concerned that, rather than ameliorating existing problems, the reforms to NSW’s anti-vilification laws which you have indicated you are considering will instead compound the differential treatment of racial vilification compared to homosexual or transgender vilification.
That is because these reforms appear to be based primarily on the recommendations of the 2013 Legislative Council Standing Committee on Law and Justice Inquiry into Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales.[vii]
This Inquiry made a number of recommendations to amend racial vilification laws, including to:
- Include “quasi-public places, such as the lobby of a strata or company title apartment block” (Recommendation 1)
- Clarify that “recklessness is sufficient to establish intention to incite” (Recommendation 3)
- “[R]eview the adequacy of the maximum penalty units in section 20D of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977, taking into account the maximum penalty units for comparable offences within the Crimes Act 1900 and other Australian jurisdictions” (Recommendation 6)
- “[R]epeal the requirement for the Attorney-General’s consent to prosecutions of serious racial vilification” (Recommendation 7)
- Extend the time limits for commencing prosecutions for racial vilification offences to 12 months, or alternatively to extend the timeframe for the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board to refer complaints to the Attorney-General (Recommendations 9, 10)
- “[A]llow the President of the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW to directly refer serious racial vilification complaints to the NSW Police Force” (Recommendation 11) and
- Provide training to NSW Police Force members about the offence of serious racial vilification (Recommendation 14).[viii]
It is arguable that the inquiry itself was flawed from the beginning given it focused on only one out of the four existing grounds of vilification in the Act.
However, what is beyond doubt is that, were you to adopt the recommendations of this Inquiry as a whole, but only with respect to racial vilification, you and the Liberal-National Government would in effect be creating a discriminatory ‘hierarchy’ of vilification laws and procedures in NSW law.
The offences of racial and homosexual vilification are drafted in exactly the same way – the only difference being substitution of the word homosexuality for race.[ix]
In which case, there cannot be any justification for the introduction and passage of laws which would mean that only racial vilification applies in quasi-public places, or includes recklessness, or attracts higher penalties, or does not need Attorney-General approval to commence proceedings, or has longer timeframes for prosecution, or can be directly referred to Police, or for which NSW Police Force members are specifically trained.
Therefore, the implementation of these reforms, if applied exclusively to racial vilification, would be both discriminatory and unjustifiable.
However, what would make them repugnant is the fact that the Standing Committee on Law and Justice’s own rationale for at least one of its recommendations – to extend the time limits for commencing prosecution of vilification offences to 12 months – is in fact based on a case of alleged homosexual vilification. As discussed in Chapter 6 of the Committee Report:
“6.20 The Board referred to a recent case involving homosexual vilification, Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor  NSWSC 44, which illustrated the potential issues surrounding the timeframe for lodging vilification complaints. In that case, Mr Margan lodged a complaint with the Anti-Discrimination Board of NSW within the 12 month timeframe required under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act. However the Director of Prosecutions (DPP), and later the Supreme Court, dismissed the offence as statute barred as it was a summary offence and proceedings were required to be commenced within six months.
6.21 The Committee understands that there is a significant discrepancy between the timeframes for lodging complaints under s89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act (12 months of an incident occurring) and s179 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 (summary offences must commence within six months of an incident occurring). The case of Simon Margan v Director of Public Prosecutions & Anor highlighted the injurious impact that this discrepancy can have on vilification complaints.
6.22 It appears sensible to align the above timeframes. Therefore the Committee recommends that the NSW Government extend the time limit for prosecutions under section 179 of the Criminal Procedure Act to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act.”[x]
And yet, despite noting the ‘injurious impact’ of the discrepancies in time limits on Mr Margan, whose complaint was based on homosexual vilification, the Committee’s recommendation was explicitly restricted to racial vilification:
That, for the purposes of racial vilification proceedings only [emphasis added], the NSW Government extend the time limit for commencing prosecutions under section 79 of the Criminal Procedure Act 1986 to 12 months to be consistent with the time limit for lodging complaints under section 89B of the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977.”[xi]
If you and the Liberal-National Government were to implement Recommendation 9 as it stands then you would only be adding insult to injury.
For all of the reasons outlined above, I urge you to ensure that any reforms which you make to the anti-vilification laws contained in the Anti-Discrimination Act treat vilification equally across all grounds, and do not unjustifiably, and above all unjustly, prioritise racial vilification offences and discriminate against homosexual, transgender and HIV vilification protections.
Finally, if you are serious about modernising the vilification provisions contained in the Act you should also expand the grounds covered to offer vilification protection to bisexual and intersex people for the first time (and indeed to provide them with anti-discrimination coverage too), and to remove the existing discrepancies in penalties between racial and HIV vilification offences on the one hand, and homosexual and transgender vilification offences on the other.
Thank you in advance for taking my correspondence into consideration. Should you require additional information, or wish to clarify any of the above comments, please do not hesitate to contact me at the details provided below.
[i] Gabrielle Upton MP (@gabrielleupton), 8:55am – 18 Sep 2015: “.@shumba60 Racial vilification abhorrent. NSW Govt considering proposed changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @mikebairdMP #nswpol”
Gabrielle Upton MP (gabrielleupton), 3:39pm – 18 Sep 2015: “.@VicAlhadeff #NSWGovt wants inclusive, diverse comm. Considering changes to streamline/strengthen race hate laws @NSWJBD @ajnnews #nswpol”
[ii] “Taunts to Trigger Race-Hate Law Overhaul”, The Australian, September 23 2015: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/state-politics/taunts-to-trigger-race-hate-law-overhaul/story-e6frgczx-1227539272920?sv=64dde3a02ebcfb4c634183c907bbeacf
[iii] Sub-section 49ZT(1) Homosexual vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group.”
[iv] Sub-section 38S(1) Transgender vilification unlawful “It is unlawful for a person, by a public act, to incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of: (a) a person on the ground that the person is a transgender person, or (b) a group of persons on the ground that the members of the group are transgender persons.”
[v] S49ZTA(1)(b), s38T(1)(b)
[vi] S20D(1)(b), s49ZXC(1)(b)
[vii] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013: https://www.parliament.nsw.gov.au/prod/parlment/committee.nsf/0/E08D4387100A3C56CA257C35007FCC4D?open&refnavid=x
[viii] Ibid, pp xii-xiii.
[ix] S20D Offence of serious racial vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the race of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”
S49ZTA Offence of serious homosexual vilification (1) A person shall not, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons on the ground of the homosexuality of the person or members of the group by means which include: (a) threatening physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons, or (b) inciting others to threaten physical harm towards, or towards any property of, the person or group of persons.”
[x] “Racial Vilification Law in New South Wales – Final Report”, 3 December 2013, pp84-85.
[xi] Ibid, p85.