The new amended version of the Racial and Religious Tolerance Bill was recently voted in by the Victorian Parliament. Even though it is now law, it is worth looking at it in detail.
It was because the original version of the Bill drew an unprecedented storm of protest (some 5500 submissions, almost all of them opposed to the Bill), that it was redrafted and re-introduced. The new version is no better than the previous one, and it should have been rejected altogether as an exercise in social engineering.
About the only major change was the inclusion of the "discussion of religious issues" as an exception. However, as will be seen in a moment, that may not be of much help.
Criticisms of the Bill have to do with what was objected to in the earlier Bill, along with new features of the new version. As in the old version of the Bill, these are some major objections that can be noted:
1) The Bill considers as irrelevant the "person’s motive in engaging in any conduct" of vilification. Thus, no matter how pristine the motive or no matter how well-intentioned one has been, this will not be taken into account.
2) There is still the inherent contradiction to the above point when in the Explanatory Memorandum it says that an "exception is provided for conduct or discussion that is engaged in ‘reasonably and in good faith’. If motive is not a matter of relevance, how does this proviso fit in? Something done ‘reasonably and in good faith’ sounds like a matter of motive and intent.
3) In the discussion of both racial and religious vilification, a person is not allowed to "engage in conduct that incites hatred against, serious contempt for, or revulsion or severe ridicule of, that other person or class of persons". These terms are far too broad and nebulous, open to any manner of subjective interpretations. For example, people from certain religious groups could easily feel revulsion over pictures of a man dying on a cross. Will an they be allowed to therefore take Christians to court because of this? One could imagine many such examples.
4) A penalty of 6 months imprisonment is still in effect, along with 60 to 300 penalty points (whatever they are).
Objections based on the new version of the Bill include the following:
1) The offence can occur once or on numerous occasions, and can occur in or outside of Victoria! If an American relative sends me a magazine that is critical of certain religious practices, will someone who objects to it be able to drag the American over here to face the Tribunal? Will I have to?
2) Even though religious exceptions have been introduced, it merely speaks of "genuine" religious purposes. Who will judge what is a genuine and what is not?
3) More than likely the Equal Opportunity Board will me made up of secularists, maybe atheists, and perhaps those supportive of the homosexual and feminist agenda. Will religious people get a fair hearing from such a board?
4) It is said that a "person must not request, instruct, induce, encourage, authorise or assist another person to contravene a provision of this Part" of the Act. If a person helps to distribute a 60 page magazine which contains one line that someone finds offensive, even if that distributor did not know about it, will he or she also be taken before the tribunal?
5) The Bill says employers and principals will be vicariously liable for what their employees do. Thus if an individual is found to be guilty, his boss will also be charged, even if he or she had no idea the activity was taking place.
6) A representative body may also complain to the tribunal on behalf of someone else. With so many well-funded and well-organised lobby groups, it seems that there will be a rash of complaints made, and these bodies will have the finance to push the case, even though the accused individual may well have no such financial and corporate backing and support.
7) "It is not necessary for the alleged contravention to relate exclusively to the complainant." What exactly does that mean? Will it be open season on anyone and anyone?
8) Even if the person complained about dies, the proceedings can continue against his unincorporated association.
9) The Bill "creates a criminal offence" that applies "only to the most extreme behaviour". Who determines what is and is not extreme?
10) If need be, the power to obtain a search warrant will be allowed. What does that entail? If someone thinks I have vilifying material in my home, can they authorise a raid? What will be confiscated? Religious literature? Bibles? Books on ethics?
All in all, this is a bad Bill which Victoria does not need. We do not need such Big Brother type legislation in Victoria. We already have laws on the books to cover these types of offences. This Bill is simply another erosion of Victorian’s freedoms.