Rob Ward, 29 April 2010

Over the last year or so, the media has made much of an apparent rise in violent attacks directed at Indians living or studying in Victoria. The Indian media reacted strongly and the Premier and other members of the Victorian Government have understandably bent over backwards to address this issue.

One action taken was to amend the Sentencing Act 1991 which now requires courts to consider when sentencing whether the offence was motivated by hatred or prejudice against a group with common characteristics. This consideration, which effectively targets crime that is based on a person’s identity, is a specific response to perceptions about racially-motivated crime.

The ACL strongly condemns acts of violence, whether randomly directed against an individual or against someone based on their belonging to a group such as a racial, religious or other group. A crime is a crime and it should be dealt with by the law based on available evidence. We acknowledge that crime, especially violent crime directed at members of an identifiable group, can have a negative impact on the whole group, not just the individual who is directly attacked.

A further measure to address crime motivated by hatred in Victoria is an inquiry by the Department of Justice, and headed by The Hon Geoffrey Eames AM QC. ACL is making a submission to the inquiry. The basis of the Eames inquiry appears not only to be recent attacks on Indian students, but a contentious report by the ‘ALSO Foundation’ called ‘With Respect’ (see here), which may create divisions within the community and may be used to advance the homosexual agenda.

Our contention is that while we agree that identity-based hate crime is wrong and must be condemned, the ALSO report calls for new offences to be created which could challenge freedom of speech as well as making it a crime to even say something which might “offend” a member of the gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or intersex (GLBTI) community. This goes much further even than the discredited Racial & Religious Tolerance Act 2001 in terms of limiting religious freedom.

The Eames inquiry is due to report to the Attorney-General in September 2010. We will be watching closely and will keep you informed.