Communities rally for race-hate reform

Ethnic community leaders gather at the launch of the Keep NSW Safe campaign. Photo: Noel Kessel

IN an unprecedented move, a coalition of ethnic organisations came together on Wednesday to urge the state government to fix its “completely ineffective” race-hate legislation.

The Keep NSW Safe initiative, backed by 21 communities, is calling on NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton to enact legislation immediately which will keep all people of NSW safe from those who promote racist violence.

“It has been proven time and again that the current law is weak and ineffective, and does not deter the promotion of violence against other Australians on the basis of their race, colour, descent or national, ethnic or ethno-religious origin,” a statement released at NSW Parliament on Wednesday read.

“The NSW government has acknowledged this failure. The current law does not effectively reach those who set out to promote racist violence.”

The statement went on to say that our government “needs to act now”, before we again see serious racist violence committed in NSW “that could otherwise have been prevented”.

“Extremists who light the fuse of racist violence should be liable to arrest, prosecution and, if convicted, punishment.”

Last October, Upton made a public commitment at the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies’ (JBOD) plenum that she would introduce legislation in the first half of 2016 which would fix the failures of the current law.

The pledge came in the wake of the decision by the NSW Police not to take legal action against Hizb ut-Tahrir spiritual leader Ismail al-Wahwah, who in 2014 described Jews as “the most evil creature of Allah” in a public speech and threatened that “the ember of jihad against the Jews will continue to burn … an eye for an eye, blood for blood, destruction for destruction”.

However, despite Upton’s promise, the legislation has yet to be fixed.

“We are disappointed that that commitment has not yet been honoured,” the statement added.

“This is not about freedom of speech; it’s about promotion of violence. Merely paying lip service to communal harmony is not good enough. Our government must instead act to preserve our peaceful way of life by changing the law to protect communities from the promotion of violence.

“We urge the NSW government to honour its commitment without further delay.”

JBOD CEO Vic Alhadeff labelled the state’s race-hate legislation “completely ineffective”, and said it gives licence to racial hatred and incitement to violence.

“How long before a serious act of violence occurs in NSW that would have otherwise been entirely preventable?

“This is not a Jewish issue, this is an issue for every citizen of NSW,” Alhadeff told The AJN.

He said the fact that an unprecedented coalition of communities has come together, representing one million Australians, “speaks volumes as to the depth of feeling on this issue”.

“There is no place for racist hate speech in NSW. We are all standing together and we hope that the government decides to stand with us.”

A website has also been set up, encouraging people to email a letter to their state MP calling on them to support the campaign for legislative change. A copy of the letter will automatically be sent to Premier Mike Baird.

A spokesperson for Upton told The AJN, “The NSW government is continuing to consider the recommendations of the Legislative Council Committee in relation to this inquiry.

“We are strongly committed to obtaining views from across the community to ensure that any reform strikes the right balance between preserving freedom of speech and protecting people from violence.”

To support the campaign, visit 
www.keepnswsafe.com.

EVAN ZLATKIS