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Anti-discrimination laws proposed by Victorian upper house MP Fiona Patten have been described as “section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act on steroids” that will turn the state into a “circus for culture wars”, free speech advoc ates say. In an Australian first, Ms Patten wants to broaden the Racial and Religious Tolerance Bill to provide protections for people vilified on the basis of gender, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or sex characteristics, outlawing actions that are “likely to incite hatred” or “severe ridicule”.  The legislation which is currently before a Committee, is highly likely to pass should the Andrews government vote in favour.

Free speech advocates including the Institute of Public Affairs and Liberal Democrats MP David Limbrick warn of unintended consequences in the legislation, likening it to section 18C of the federal Racial Discrimination Act, which outlaws actions that “offend, insult, humiliate or intimidate” a person on the basis of their race.  “Just like section 18C, the proposed anti-vilification laws are vaguely worded and contain no objective standard,” said IPA research fellow Morgan Begg.  “Each judge will have their own view on what is ‘likely to incite hatred’ or ‘severe ridicule’.  “This bill not only infringes on the freedom of speech of everyday Victorians … but the media, too.”

Mr Begg said a further amendment to expand the Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission’s power to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal to compel people to produce documents was “contrary to an individual’s right to silence, and runs contrary to 800 years of established legal protections dating back to the Magna Carta of 1215”.  “Such a power should be strictly limited and should only ever be exercised by a proper court of law,” he said.  “VCAT by their own admission are not a court, and should not exercise court-like powers.”

Mr Limbrick said under Ms Patten’s amendment, “Victorian judges may soon be forced to decide if using the wrong pronoun to describe someone is hate speech, feminists could be jailed for tweeting about men, and the government will have the power to trawl through your internet history”.  Ms Patten said her legislation was intended to extend the protections granted to racial and religious minorities to other groups facing online abuse, citing the cases of Adam Goodes and AFLW star Tayla Harris.  “It’s not right that Adam Goodes, because of his indigenous heritage, is protected … but Tayla Harris … subjected to sexist abuse, is not.”

Source: Compiled by APN from media reports