Shane Rattenbury moves to outlaw vilification on grounds of religion
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Shane Rattenbury moves to outlaw vilification on grounds of religion

The Greens' Shane Rattenbury will move on Thursday to outlaw vilification on the grounds of religion, which he says is a glaring omission from the government's changes to discrimination law to be debated on Thursday.

Mr Rattenbury said religious vilification laws were needed more than ever. He cited vandalism attacks on the Islamic Centre in Monash and said houses had been letterboxed with anti-muslim material and opposition to a Gungahlin mosque.

The Greens' Shane Rattenbury, who will move on Thursday to ban vilification on the grounds of religion.

The Greens' Shane Rattenbury, who will move on Thursday to ban vilification on the grounds of religion.Credit:Paul Furness

"The return of Pauline Hanson and the emergence of groups like Reclaim Australia demonstrate that religious intolerance is alive and well," he said.

Attorney-General Simon Corbell said Labor would consider Mr Rattenbury's amendment on Thursday morning.

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"There are certainly arguments to make religious vilification unlawful and the change has vocal support from many sections of Canberran society," he said.

Human Rights Commissioner Helen Watchirs supports Mr Rattenbury's move, saying religious vilification was to be dealt with before the last election in 2012, but the legislation had lapsed. While discrimination on the grounds of disability brought the most complaints to the commission, with race second, religious vilification was an issue, she said.

Today's changes to discrimination laws are based on a lengthy review by the ACT Law Reform Advisory Council, which has recommended a suite of additions to the vilification list, including religion.

But Mr Corbell has stepped back from the move, saying Thursday's changes are a "first stage".

"The government is making amendments in a considered and careful way and is not legislating beyond the types of protections that apply for vilification in Victoria, Tasmania and Queensland," he said.

He is adding disability to the list, making it illegal to vilify someone on the grounds of disability. Disability joins race, sexuality, gender identity, and HIV/AIDS status.

Mr Corbell's Bill also expands the description of vilification, which already makes it illegal to incite hatred, serious contempt, or severe ridicule. He is adding "inciting revulsion" to the illegal acts.

Also, instead of limiting vilification to "public acts", all actions that are "communicated openly, or observable publicly", will be covered, even in a place not generally open to the public, such as a workplace. This includes posts on social media, if they can be seen by the public, along with wearing clothes, signs or flags that would incite hatred, contempt, ridicule or revulsion.

There are two types of protections in the Discrimination Act - protection against vilification, and protection against discrimination. The discrimination list is much larger than the vilification list, with 15 grounds in the current law, including age, breastfeeding, job, occupation, race, relationship status, religious or political conviction, and others.

The list is being expanded to 24, also outlawing discrimination on the grounds of accommodation status, employment status, genetic information, immigration status, intersex status, physical features, altered sex, and being a victim of domestic and family violence. The Law Reform Advisory Council had wanted all 24 added to the vilification list.

Dr Watchirs said the one of the most exciting amendments was outlawing discrimination against domestic violence victims, who had faced the possibility of losing thier job if their spouse hassled them at work. They will now be protected.

Mr Corbell said the changes to the vilification laws were "not about outlawing offensive language or preventing robust discussion and debate, but about personal attacks that incite hatred or revulsion of a person because of their disability or race for example".

The law would not cover acts or speech done in private, he said.

"A balance has been struck between freedom of expression and the right to feel included and safe."

The definition of disability is expanded, now including people who "learn differently", which is broader than the current "intellectual disability or developmental delay". The new definition will also ensure people cannot be discriminated against on the basis of genetic tests or other indications that a person is predisposed to disability.