Wednesday June 6
The NSW government has implemented what it says are the toughest laws in the country against inciting racial and religious violence, caving in to pressure from ethnic and community groups six months after it ruled out the move.
People who threaten or incite violence against others based on race, religion or sexuality will face up to three years in jail in NSW under the changes announced by state Attorney-General Mark Speakman. It toughens anti-discrimination legislation that has resulted in no prosecutions in almost 30 years.
Mr Speakman acknowledged existing provisions in the Anti-Discrimination Act were “ineffective” and had allowed some people to escape punishment for acts that encouraged violence.
The change was welcomed by Keep NSW Safe, an alliance of 31 community organisations and leaders who said they had worked for three years to have the outdated laws changed.
“The law was so convoluted as to be completely unworkable,” Keep NSW Safe spokesman Vic Alhadeff said. “There has not been a single prosecution. Either we live in Disneyland, or it doesn’t work.”
The issue was the subject of a lengthy inquiry headed by the former president of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Board, Stepan Kerkyasharian, who released a report last year.
In 2015, radical Islamic preacher Ismail al-Wahwah, leader of extremist political party Hizb ut-Tahrir, avoided prosecution after calling for Muslims to wipe out the Jewish race.
“The ember of jihad against the Jews will continue to burn,” he said in a translated excerpt of a speech. “Judgment day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews … tomorrow you Jews will see what will become of you — an eye for an eye, blood for blood, destruction for destruction.”
Mr Speakman announced a new offence would be added to the state’s Crimes Act, replacing protections legislated by the Greiner Liberal government in 1989. It is a reversal of Mr Speakman’s position in December when he said there were “no plans” to amend section 20D of the Anti-Discrimination Act.
Yesterday, he said the offence of “publicly threatening or inciting violence” on grounds of race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex or HIV/AIDS status would include a maximum penalty of three years’ jail and a fine of $11,000. It replaces the existing maximum sentence of six months.
“People who incite violence are a threat to community safety,” Mr Speakman said. “If passed, these laws will help protect individuals and groups from being targeted by cowards who seek to cause physical harm to innocent people. We’re not saying people can’t have opinions or express their views, but if they cross the line into threatening and inciting violence they will not go unpunished.”
Mr Alhadeff it was “not about curbing free speech” but public safety. “The government needs to be commended for plugging this gap. It makes every resident of NSW safer. That’s what motivated thousands of Australians to unite on this.”
Opposition Leader Luke Foley said: “For too long some in the Liberal Party have confused freedom of speech with race hate. The law should make it very clear there is no room for words that incite violence against a person on the basis of their race, religion or sexuality.”
Opposition justice spokesman Paul Lynch said the “government is finally adopting our position”.