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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2016 Week 07 Hansard (Thursday, 4 August 2016) . . Page.. 2357 ..


I think it is important to be very clear that these amendments do not change the current exemptions for religious bodies and educational institutions conducted for religious purposes under the Discrimination Act. These bodies will be able to continue to conduct themselves as they do today in these respects.

These amendments are aimed at preventing hateful and harmful comments about people on the basis of their religion. While freedom of expression and frank political discourse are important facets of our democracy, as a community I do not believe that we see there is a place for comments that incite hatred of people on the basis of their religious faith.

The Australian Human Rights Commission report on the 40th anniversary of the Racial Discrimination Act found:

Representatives of Muslim and Arab organisations also reported that members of their communities experienced racial and religious vilification with regular frequency—not only in verbal form, but also through offensive letters and pamphlets.

In the report, Muslim women in particular provided instances of being vilified in the streets. One example included a mother receiving anti-Islamic abuse in the street while a man kicked her pram.

The vilification provisions in the act protect against the most serious of religious, racial and disability abuse and hate speech. I believe that amendments to make religious vilification unlawful are compatible with our human rights law. Similar law has been in place for many years in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland anti-discrimination law.

While some may be concerned that the amendments may limit the implied right to political communication, the amendments serve a legitimate purpose in ensuring that the political discourse does not descend into acts that incite violence and hatred against people on the basis of their religion. These are complex issues, despite the amendments themselves being simple, and the imperative for preventing religious vilification is clear. There are persuasive arguments to make religious vilification unlawful, and I am confident the change has strong support from across our community.

We have heard many accounts in this place of religious abuse and vilification, stories about members of our community who have come to Canberra to raise a family, yet are subjected to harassment and vilification, which are usually based on ignorance, fear and bigotry. We know that Canberra is a diverse society, and creating a safe and respectful community will be better for all of us. For these reasons, Labor members will be supporting these amendments today.

MR HANSON (Molonglo—Leader of the Opposition) (4.41): The opposition will support these amendments but I would like to make a number of comments about them that indicate our concern that this has been brought on in the way it has.


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