JEWISH organisations have told a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry into anti-vilification protections that stronger legislation is needed.
Appearing online before the legal and social issues committee of the Legislative Assembly, Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) co-CEO Peter Wertheim called for Victoria’s Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to be beefed up to WA standards.
He said civil prohibitions in the Victorian legislation should emulate WA law, focusing on the effect of vilification on its targets rather than on third parties as it presently does, which requires proof of incitement. And he called for the broadening of the act to address victims of all forms of discrimination.
Wertheim called for “restorative” measures and an apology process. “Often the apology means far more to the victim than any financial compensation.”
Jewish Community Council of Victoria president Jennifer Huppert told the inquiry, “While there has been a significant increase in [antisemitic] incidents between 2013 and 2019, in the last 12 months there was not a significant increase … but there was an increase in the severity of those incidents.”
She said Victoria’s civil legislation needs to be upgraded to testing for harm to the target. Criminal sanctions need to be incorporated in the Crimes Act to “lend strength to Victoria Police”.
On a proposed swastika ban, for which Caulfield MP David Southwick, a member of the parliamentary committee, is campaigning, Huppert said it should be “part of a broader reform [of legislation banning symbols of hate], and I would have concerns that there would be a quick fix for a particular issue”.
Union for Progressive Judaism co-president David Knoll said NSW research shows education in public schools about the harm of racist behaviour is not enough to prevent antisemitism.
“We know that unless antisemitism is specifically identified … students do not automatically see having a go at Jews as being racist.”
The inquiry, which heard from the mother of a Jewish boy forced to kiss the feet of a Muslim schoolmate, also heard from the mother of a five-year-old called “a worthless Jewish rodent” by another pupil. She said the school had not apologised, nor was there compensation for having to enrol her son in a Jewish school and miss part of his prep year. “As a mother, I was devastated by the effects.”
The inquiry also heard from historian and academic Professor Suzanne Rutland and ECAJ research director Julie Nathan on antisemitism in the community.
Stemming from Huppert’s meeting with Attorney-General Jill Hennessy last year, the inquiry received 19 submissions from Victorian communities.