If there’s one good thing that comes out of the furore over attacks on Indian students in Sydney and Melbourne, it may be that Australia gets its first hate crime laws -” though don’t expect them soon in NSW.
Victorian Attorney-General Rob Hulls has flagged changes to the criminal code that would require judges to consider the role of prejudice against a particular group of people in crimes, with tougher sentences applying where the motivator is race, religion, gender or sexuality.
If debates that have occurred elsewhere over similar laws are anything to go by, expect a storm of bleating about white heterosexual males becoming an endangered species and -˜special rights’ for minorities from our conservative commentators when the bill goes before Parliament.
In response to a hate crime bill becoming law in Scotland this month, the Glasgow Herald’s Brian Currie declared, If you are white, heterosexual, not religious-¦ and are not disabled, you’ve just become a minority group in Scotland, under the headline -˜Some victims are more equal than others’.
In the eyes of the Scottish Parliament, if you belong to the above grouping and you are the victim of an assault-¦ the courts don’t have to treat your attacker as harshly as they would otherwise.
Currie’s claim ignored two critical factors -” the bill covered prejudice against any racial group including whites, and on both real or presumed sexual orientation. Heterosexuality is a sexual orientation too. That means a heterosexual attacked for being straight is covered, a heterosexual mistaken for being gay is covered, and a gay person mistaken for being straight is also covered.
Ideally Victoria’s legislation will be similarly worded and do the same.
And so it should. The best anti-discrimination laws are those that protect all groups, no matter how infrequently prejudice against them occurs.
In the UK there have already been successful cases of heterosexuals working in predominantly gay-staffed environments claiming workplace discrimination, and I’ve no doubt there will be cases here one day as well.
The other line from conservatives will be that all murders should be considered equally abhorrent, no matter the motive. But that’s clearly not the case in law already. Assassinations and acts of terrorism are treated differently from other crimes because they are calculated to have effects beyond their immediate victims.
In the same way hate crimes go beyond merely wanting to injure, terrify or rob an individual. They seek to strike a blow against entire groups, or capitalise on their marginal status in getting away with the crime.

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