On August 28, Fiona Patten tabled an amendment to the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act in the Victorian Parliament which seeks to extend the protections afforded on racial and religious grounds to cover sexuality, gender and disability as well.  

The Victorian Government has now granted the bill a parliamentary inquiry which must report back in twelve months. 

If Patten’s bill is successful it will bring Victoria up to speed with the law in Queensland, NSW, Tasmania and the ACT in this area.

“This legislation is about not accepting the type of vile, vicious and violent abuse that people are experiencing today,” Patten said when introducing the bill.

“We are seeing this escalation of horrible, hate speech online, which  does have real effects. It is coming to a point where people are taking their own lives, because of the types of threats and abuse that they are receiving.”

“We understand that it is not acceptable to abuse people on the grounds of their race or religion, so it is now time that we accept that it is not ok to abuse people on the grounds of the gender or sexuality.”

In her address, Patten also drew attention to the fact, that within the LGBTQI community, six-in-ten people have experienced verbal homophobic abuse while one-in-five will experience some form of physical violence.

“This is about language which incites hate and incites violence,” Patten said.

“During the plebiscite, the  level of abuse that people were experiencing online was incredibly hurtful and incredibly damaging. It had horrible effect for some people. I spoke with Switchboard, recently they told me that- during this period they received so many calls about this type of abuse  and not only that as Switchboard started to receive abusive phone calls themselves.”

Switchboard  CEO Joe Ball confirmed this to the Star Observer.

“As a result of the postal survey we saw a 40 percent increase in contacts,” Ball said.

“These rates have not gone down, they have only increased. In fact, March this year saw the highest ever contacts to Qlife.”

“We have seen an increase in abusive calls to the service too. And we are noticing an upwards reporting of homophobic and transphobic violence from those who contact our service.”

“We know from our work at Switchboard that even with the wins of marriage equality and the recent Victorian Birth Certificate reform, our community is exhausted, stressed and feeling under pressure.”

Conservative critics like the Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi have opposed Patten’s proposed amendments  as “ham fisted” and an “attack on free speech.”

However Patten said those views were based on ignorance.

“What I have said to the Herald Sun and others whom think this is an attack on free speech, is to read the bill, actually read the legislation, it is so obvious, that they are working from a place of ignorance,” Patten said.

“What this bill addresses is not actually discrimination, it address vilification.,” Patten said.

“This is quite different, it addresses abuses; the type which continue to inflict further harm. This bill is about the effects on the individual, not the community.“

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