Victorian Labor MLC Jaala Pulford has called on Attorney-General Robert Clark to promote awareness of Victoria’s anti-hate crime laws following a homophobic incident in Colac.

The Western Victoria MLC told Parliament she was saddened to hear comedian Joel Creasey and three others had been forced to run to their car to escape a group of young men hurling homophobic abuse at them as they left the launch of an anti-discrimination group in the regional town.

“Any attack of this nature on an individual is appalling,” Pulford told Parliament. “What made this event so horrible was that Joel was targeted because he is gay.

“I call on the Attorney-General to require the Department of Justice to immediately initiate a program that, firstly, promotes awareness of Victoria’s anti-hate crime laws and the reasons for their existence; and secondly, promotes greater acceptance and tolerance of diversity in Colac through means such as the local media, schools, community and sporting groups and other organisations as deemed appropriate by the department.”

Pulford, whose electorate takes in Colac, said she felt compelled to contact Creasey to “reassure him” his experience was “not typical of the attitude of the majority of people in Western Victoria”.

Pulford said the behaviour of the youths, however, could not go without response from the Government.

Sentencing laws tightened under the Brumby Government require judges to factor in hatred or prejudice-motivation when sentencing offenders.

Anti-Violence Project (AVP) Victoria convenor Greg Adkins welcomed Pulford’s calls. “We need leadership from Government to change society’s outdated and discriminatory values around sexuality and gender diversity,” Adkins told the Star Observer.

“This is their responsibility and role to make sure every citizen in this state is protected and free of prejudice and hate in their everyday lives.”

Adkins said the AVP intends to work with the Colac Otway Shire Council to promote a better understanding of the impacts of homophobia and transphobia.

“In rural and regional areas … gay people, lesbians, certainly transgender people are much less visible and that visibility is what helps people become more aware about sexual diversity and gender difference.

“It’s about providing a safe space for young people to come out in country areas but also to stay and live in their cities and country towns and not have to make that journey to capital cities to be who they are.”

Adkins urged the Baillieu Government to release retired Supreme Court judge Geoff Eames’ review into the state’s crime laws to see if they stack up when dealing with hate-motivated crime.

A spokesman for the Attorney-General said current laws already send a strong message that prejudice and hate-motivated crimes are unacceptable.

“In 2009 the Parliament, with bipartisan support, passed legislation to make clear that such motivation is an aggravating factor that renders the offender liable to a higher penalty,” he said.

“The law therefore already sends a strong message that such crimes are unacceptable; the challenge is to ensure perpetrators are caught and brought to justice.”

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