Monday, 14 September 2020

Why Queensland groups say racial hate crimes not taken seriously and stronger laws are needed

 A wave of racist incidents linked to the coronavirus pandemic has prompted community and religious leaders from across the spectrum to call on Queensland politicians to do more to stamp out hate crime and vilification.

Queensland's Human Rights Commissioner Scott McDougall said the diverse coalition of about 20 organisations was "very unusual" and showed how critical the issue was across the community.

"We've heard of lots of incidents happening over the years [but] since COVID, there has been more fear in the community, and we've seen the Asian community targeted initially and more recently the African community," he said.

Mr McDougall said the group was pushing for stronger legal protections after compiling a dossier of hate-related incidents dating back to 2013 it said demonstrated the state's anti-discrimination laws were not "doing their job".

"In the last 20 years, we've had very few prosecutions," he said.

"Very often hate-related crimes are not being prosecuted as such — they're being prosecuted as public nuisance."

"[While] there have been previous attempts to strengthen laws, I think what we are seeing now from the community is their absolute frustration with the inadequacy of the current laws."

Hate crime treated as 'wilful damage'

Ali Kadri from the Islamic Council of Queensland, a member of the coalition, said the community sentiment was: "Nothing happens, there are not enough protections, and not enough repercussions for people who commit this type [of abuse]".

In the aftermath of the Christchurch massacre, the words "St Tarrant" and a swastika were graffitied outside the Holland Park Mosque.

"It's the name of a terrorist who committed a heinous crime and it's got a hate angle to it [but was treated as] wilful damage," he said.

In another case, a Brisbane man who threatened to set fire to a woman's hijab in an unprovoked attack in 2014 was fined $500 for assault.

The coalition said the current criminal offence of serious vilification, which has a maximum penalty of six months' jail or a $9,000 fine, failed to capture "the majority of harassment experienced by targeted communities".

To tackle the gap, the group has recommended making racial or religious motivation an aggravating circumstance for existing offences

It also recommends introducing a hate crime protective order along the lines of a domestic violence order or a peace and good behaviour order.

Its other suggestions included creating a hate crime scrutiny panel, similar to a body that operates in the United Kingdom, to review how complaints are made and handled.

"We need to make people feel that they can actually make a complaint and something will be done," Mr McDougall said.

'Broke me into pieces'

A woman seen from behind staring at the Brisbane River, the Story Bridge visible in the distance
Martha says her friends and family regularly face overt racism.(ABC News: Kate McKenna)

Former Brisbane retail worker Martha (not her real name) was serving a customer four years ago when she said she came face to face with a woman's racism.

"She said, 'I don't want to be served by you, I don't want to be served by a black person'," she said.

"I wanted to cry in that moment … it just broke me into pieces."

But she said racist incidents had been far from isolated in her experience.

Neighbours had levelled racial slurs at her relatives, filmed their children, and even dumped rubbish in their yard during the pandemic period, with the family urged to contact the council if there were future issues.

"We should all be working together to actually hold people who do such behaviours to account so they don't do it again," she said.

It is a sentiment shared by Nadia Saeed, 22, who endured a racist tirade from a stranger in Logan just days after helping to organise a vigil to mark the Christchurch massacre.

"He started to say to me, 'I don't care that your people died … I wish you'd been shot as well. You don't belong here'," she said.

Ms Saeed said protections needed to be bolstered.


A muslim woman wearing a red head scarf
Nadia Saeed says current laws are not enough of a deterrent.

"I think that the laws need to be a lot harsher … there needs to be something in place to deter people from doing what they do," she said.

The advisory group includes members of the Islamic Women's Association of Australia (Queensland), Uniting Church, Queensland Jewish Community Services, Queensland African Communities Council, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, and Pacific Islander Community Queensland.

"This affects all of us as Queenslanders … whether they are of an ethnic background or First Nations people or of an Anglo-Saxon background," Mr Kadri said.

"We are doing it to make our state safe."

Intolerance in schools

Peter Forday from Multicultural Australia said Queensland needed legislation that promoted "safety, welcome and belonging".

He pointed to anti-Chinese sentiment associated with COVID-19 and the tensions between Australia and China.

"A sad example is a child in my seven-year-old daughter's class stating that, 'We don't like Chinese because they give us the virus.'"

Queensland Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said hate crime and racial vilification had no place in Queensland and she was prepared to work with stakeholders, including the coalition of organisations, to discuss their proposal.

Shadow Attorney-General David Janetzki said Queenslanders were protected under the state's anti-discrimination act, but the LNP was committed to ensuring laws were up to date and in line with community expectations.

Sourced from:ABC News,Queensland groups say racial hate crimes not taken seriously and stronger laws are needed by By Kate McKenna (Monday September 14, 2020)








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