Section 20D: ‘The time to act is now’

NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton with Vic Alhadeff (on left) and Jeremy Spinak.

A COALITION of community leaders are coming together to push for changes to Section 20D of the NSW Anti-Discrimination Act.

NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton said last year that the Act is “not working” and “must be changed”.

She told the community that she would introduce legislation into Parliament by June this year, but The AJN understands that, unless there is vocal support from the broader NSW community, many parliamentarians will not back the changes.

The NSW Jewish Board of Deputies (JBOD) has taken on the challenge because, according to its CEO Vic Alhadeff, this is a matter that impacts a vast number of communities in NSW.

“The law as it stands does not work and the time to act is now, before someone is incited to commit a violent act against an ethnic community,” Alhadeff told The AJN.

“We should all be concerned that currently in NSW there are no effective protections to stop the promotion of violence against someone because of their race.”

He added: “We are currently building a coalition comprising a broad range of communities to support the need for real change in the law.

“While we are concerned about the delay in reforming the law, we are confident that the NSW government will ultimately support this important change.”

The AJN understands that several politicians are concerned with making changes to the Act because it is seen by many as a free speech issue.

The AJN also understands that if JBOD and other community groups approach Upton as a group, she is likely to back the proposal.

Last October, Upton spoke at a JBOD plenum, where she promised to introduce legislation into NSW Parliament in the 2016 Budget Session, which was handed down this week without such legislation.

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”.

Section 20D of the Act covers the criminal offence of serious racial vilification.

“No-one has been successfully prosecuted under Section 20D since it was inserted in the Act in 1989,” Upton said at the time.

“It’s clear the Act is not working as intended. It must be changed to meet its objectives … to protect our community from hate speech, to better protect our community from violence or from threats of violence, to secure that inclusive, tolerant, harmonious community of which we are very proud.”

However, Upton told The AJN the legislation is not ready to ­proceed.

“Make no mistake I always will condemn those who use words to spread hate and division in our community,” she said.

“As I have said previously, any change to the law in this regard has to balance freedom of speech with the clear responsibility to not encourage violence.

“The NSW government will continue to work with community groups to advance a consensus in this area.”

EVAN ZLATKIS