Vilification on the grounds of religion is now illegal and in serious cases could result in a criminal conviction with a fine of up to $7500, under laws passed by the ACT parliament on Thursday.
ACT parliament passes religious vilification laws
Both Labor and Liberal supported the move put by the Greens Shane Rattenbury, who said the display of hatred, intolerance and offensive behaviour towards Muslims was one of the biggest intolerance issues in Australia today.
The University of South Australia had found about 10 per cent of Australians were highly Islamophobic, and while the ACT showed the lowest rates in the country, Islamophobia was still significant here.
“It is clear [Muslims] are frequently, almost constantly, exposed to discrimination, vilification and targeted offensive behaviour,” he said.
Thursday’s changes to the Discrimination Act also added disability to the list, so it is now illegal to vilify someone because of disability, religion, race, sexuality, gender identity, and HIV/AIDS status. Vilification can include social media posts, actions in a workplace and wearing clothes, signs or flags that would incite hatred, contempt, ridicule or revulsion.
Liberal leader Jeremy Hanson said the Liberals wanted a harmonious, multicultural society free from extremism. He had been shot at by Sunni and Shiite extremists and by the IRA, so he knew firsthand the consequences of extremism, but others in the community experienced the consequences daily.
Christians and Jews were also vilified for their beliefs and would be protected by the new legislation, he said.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the change was not designed to limit freedom of speech but to “ensure the political discourse does not descend into hatred”.
Protections against discrimination (as opposed to vilification) were also extended on Thursday, with new bans on discrimination on the basis of accommodation status, employment status, genetic information, immigration status, intersex status, physical features, altered sex, and being a victim of domestic and family violence.
The ACT has outlawed vilification of people because of their religion, concerned about growing attacks on Muslims.