‘A line in the sand’

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman. Photo: Noel Kessel

UNDER new laws to be introduced in the NSW Parliament, any individual who incites or threatens violence against the Jewish community could face three years in prison.

Six months after the state government abandoned plans to fix Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act, Attorney-General Mark Speakman has announced the new laws to replace ineffective provisions that have allowed offenders such as Hizb ut-Tahrir spiritual leader Ismail al-Wahwah to escape prosecution for encouraging violence.

In 2015 police failed to prosecute al-Wahwah for videos in which he called on people to “rid” the world of the Jewish “hidden evil”, and where he declared “the ember of jihad against the Jews will continue to burn”.

Noting there had not been a single prosecution under Section 20D, then Anti-Discrimination Board president Stepan Kerkyasharian said at the time, “The law … appears to be inadequate.”

In 2016, representatives from 21 different communities together launched the Keep NSW Safe Coalition to lobby for more effective legislation. Their concerns were finally answered on Tuesday.

“We’ve listened to the genuine concern of minority groups who want their safety protected by government and that’s why we’re acting today,” Speakman said.

“I am very grateful to the Keep NSW Safe Coalition which has fought very hard for these laws.”

The legislation will create a new offence in the Crimes Act of publicly threatening or inciting violence on grounds of race, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex or HIV/AIDS status, with a maximum penalty of three years’ imprisonment and a fine of $11,000.

“This is about protecting the community, and the Crimes Act is the right place for such protection,” Speakman said.

Acknowledging that “there are many problems” with the existing law, Speakman also confirmed the removal of a six-month time limit on prosecutions – one of the issues that doomed the al-Wahwah case.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who pledged last December to strengthen the laws within 100 days if Labor is elected in March 2019, welcomed the announcement but said the government’s long inaction “had empowered racist groups to spread vile racist propaganda knowing that a prosecution was highly unlikely”.

“For too long some in the Liberal Party have confused freedom of speech with race hate. The law should make it very clear there is no room for words that incite violence against a person on the basis of their race, religion or sexuality,” he said.

NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) president Jeremy Spinak said it was a “great day” for the Jewish community.

“The government has put a line in the sand and said that incitement to violence on the basis of race will not be tolerated. This measure protects our community and allows us to act to meet ­brewing threats of violence before they occur,” he said.

“This was a great example of the wider community coming together for a good cause,” he added, while also commending JBOD CEO Vic Alhadeff for “his passion and tireless pursuit of this outcome”.

Alhadeff, in his role as spokesperson for the Keep NSW Safe Coalition, commended the government for “acknowledging the need to reform the law and preparing this bill”.

“Preventing incitement to violence is not about curbing free speech, but about public safety. That’s what motivated thousands of Australians to unite on this issue under the Keep NSW Safe banner, and the government deserves credit for responding to their concerns and taking this most important step,” he said.

GARETH NARUNSKY