by GRACE JOHNSON
The NSW Government has set in place new laws that prohibit vilification on the grounds of religious belief, affiliation or activity.
The Anti-Discrimination Amendment (Religious Vilification) Act 2023 amends the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 to make it unlawful to, by a public act, incite hatred towards, serious contempt for, or severe ridicule of, a person or group of persons, because of their religious belief, affiliation or activity.
A ‘public act’ includes any form of public communication or conduct, verbal and non-verbal.
The amendments add to the existing legislation that bans vilification on the grounds of race, homosexuality, transgender status and HIV/AIDS status.
Premier of NSW Chris Minns said the amendments fulfill an important election promise.
“The NSW Government supports a peaceful, multicultural society in NSW,” he said.
“There cannot be room for hatred which sows the seeds of mistrust and intolerance. We cannot tolerate religious vilification. This would threaten the thriving, tolerant, multi-religious and multi-ethnic heart of NSW.”
NSWCCL calls amendments a “missed opportunity”
Speaking to City Hub, Lydia Shelly, President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (NSWCCL) described the amendments as a missed opportunity. She expressed her belief that everyone should be afforded protection from any kind of vilification.
“We are very disappointed that the government has rammed through the amendments to essentially protect, or favour, religious vilification over other forms of vilification, and it will still leave people essentially unprotected.”
“For example, trans people, people with intersex variations, sex workers. This potentially allows a pathway for religious institutions to potentially discriminate against people from the queer community.”
The Anti-Discrimination (Religious Vilification) Bill was introduced on June 28, 2023. Greens member Jenny Leong MP released a statement that said the anti-discrimination act needed a “full and independent review.”
“Under this bill, the NSW Labor Government will further embolden conservative religious organisations, groups and commentators by introducing broad protections for ‘religious activity’ – which is not clearly defined,” the statement reads.
Ms Shelly told City Hub, “I think it’s horrific that the government has cultivated a political environment where people of faith need to feel that the only way to secure their rights and liberties and protections is at the expense of other people in the community.”
“These amendments have been in the pipeline for a long time, but I certainly think that the fact that they’ve come about at a time where we’re seeing an increase in both Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, is really quite important. Again, people of faith deserve to be protected from vilification, but it’s my view that it doesn’t take away the fact that these amendments fundamentally do not ensure that everybody is protected from harm and vilification. And that’s incredibly disappointing.”
Ms Shelly shared her concern for the government overlooking queer communities and their right to be protected, not just in this round of amendments but in the last decade especially.
Rising tensions across Sydney
Religious vilification has been a rising concern as Israeli attacks in Gaza continue, and tensions between religious groups mount in Sydney.
Pro-Palestine demonstrations have continued, with hundreds of protestors gathering at Port Botany on Saturday to block the arrival of Israeli cargo ships.
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The rally is the sixth to be held in Sydney since the Hamas attack on October 7. The initial attack saw around 1,200 Israelis die, a figure recently revised down from 1,400 by Israel’s foreign ministry.
Two men were recently infringed for ripping down parts of an installation along Bondi Beach of blue and white towels and thongs accompanied by posters of Israelis held hostage by Hamas.
Since the initial attack, over 11,000 Palestinians, including more than 4,500 children, have been killed in Israeli retaliatory attacks, according to Gaza health authorities.
Several councils across Sydney have refused to acknowledge the Palestinian struggle. Waverley Council, for example, removed Councillor Ludovico Fabiano from his position as Deputy Mayor for wanting to do so.
Attorney General Michael Daley said the amendments to the legislation reflect our changing society.
“No one, and no group of people, should have to encounter hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule because of their religious belief, affiliation or activity,” he said.
“The make-up of our society has changed since the Anti-Discrimination Act 1977 became law and we have enacted legislation that reflects and protects our modern society.”
Complaints will go to Anti-Discrimination NSW, to be dealt with through conciliation. Complaints can also go to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal in certain circumstances, and if a complaint is substantiated, the tribunal may order an apology or damages of up to $100,000.
The new laws came into effect yesterday, Sunday 12 November.