Victoria Legal Aid

Stronger protections against hate speech needed in Victoria

A joint submission from Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service and Victoria Legal Aid calls for the Victorian government to bolster protections against hate speech.

Friday 14 February 2020 12:00am

We've joined with Victorian Aboriginal Legal ServiceExternal Link (VALS) to call on the state government to bolster protections against hate speech.

Our joint submission to the Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into anti-vilification laws, 'Fair and accessible anti-vilification protections for all Victorians', outlines the prevalence and impact of hate speech on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and the gaps in protections. It's the first time the two legal assistance organisations have made a joint submission.

’Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are too often targeted by harmful hate speech in our communities,’ said Moricia Vrymoet, VALS’ Director of Legal Services. ‘Hate speech has an impact not just on the individual, but on our community more broadly – and the kind of society we live in.’

Hate speech is speech which expresses hatred of a group of people in our society based on discrimination and prejudice. Currently, Victorian laws forbid inciting hatred or violence because of a person’s race or religion, but the submission states that the legal bar is often set too high for victims of hate speech to achieve justice.

'Victoria needs laws which address different types of harmful hate speech – from promoting violence online to harmful comments in the workplace,’ said Rowan McRae, Victoria Legal Aid's Executive Director of Civil Justice, Access and Equity.

‘The laws which address serious incitement or hatred need to be simplified to remove technical barriers which stop victims proving that hate speech occurred.

‘But we also need new protections to address hate speech that offends, humiliates, insults or intimidates people because of who they are,' said Rowan.

The joint submission also recommends protections from hate speech for people who currently don’t have protections – including women, people with disability and LGBTIQ+ people.

Victoria Legal Aid assisted Timothy (not their real name) in relation to a workplace discrimination complaint, but Victoria’s anti-vilification laws currently do not ban homophobic hate speech.

'I was bullied and harassed in the workplace by a man that thought it was ok to use hate speech against me ... I now suffer with severe PTSD and an adjustment disorder, I don’t like going to crowded places and have daily anxiety attacks … Please make these changes so that people who are in my position can be looked after and those who want to cause pain by saying such hurtful things can be punished.'

Our joint submission recommends urgent reforms to ensure all Victorians have adequate protections.

Our recommendations for change

The submission includes the following proposed changes to Victoria’s anti-vilification laws:

  1. broader protections – introduce protections from hate speech for women, people with disability, LGBTIQ+ people and for people targeted because of their connection with a protected group (e.g. towards friends, partners or family members)
  2. improved civil protections – update the existing ‘inciting hatred’ test to remove technical barriers to victims proving vilification, and introduce a new harm-based civil protection for behaviour that offends, insults, humiliates or intimidates people protected under anti-vilification laws
  3. review criminal offences – review serious vilification criminal offences to facilitate greater reporting and improve deterrence and simplify the process to prosecute
  4. stronger enforcement – stronger powers for the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission to investigate vilification and enforce the law
  5. online hate speech – ensure corporations (including social media companies) which assist with the spread of hate speech can be held liable and give the commission powers to identify a person accused of hate speech using an online account.

The Victorian parliament’s report on anti-vilification laws will be released on 1 September 2020.

More information

Read Fair and accessible anti-vilification protections for all Victorians.

Reviewed 14 April 2022