The Online Hate Prevention Institute (OHPI), Australia’s only national harm prevention charity dedicated to tackling all forms of online hate and extremism, welcomes the Victorian Government’s response to the inquiry into anti-vilification protections. For almost a decade OHPI has led the response to the growing problem of online vilification which causes real world harm to individuals, communities, and to our multicultural society. Online hate has also led to hate crimes including violent extremism. The problem has reached a crisis point, exacerbated by the pandemic. The inquiry and the government’s response help to chart a new path to enhance the protection of the community, particularly of those most at risk. We welcome these developments, but we are concerned that tackling online hate in a timely manner may require more engagement, and in a more urgent manner, than is currently proposed.

We welcome the Government’s commitment to ban all Nazi symbols. The commitment will address not just the Swastika but also a range of alternative symbols which are used to intimidate minorities, incite hate and extremism, and normalize these abhorrent ideologies in society. This action by the Victorian Labor Government adopts a recommendation of the inquiry and a policy championed by the Liberal Member for Caulfield, David Southwick MP, and supported by the state opposition.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute is unique. We are a specialist charity that tackling all forms of online hate and extremism. Many of the segments of the community we see being attacked are not covered by anti-vilification legislation. We welcome the Victorian Government’s commitment to extend the state’s anti-vilification protections beyond race and religion so that it also covers areas such as sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability, and HIV/AIDS status. By extending the law, and reducing the barriers to its use, the Government will be ensuring greater protection for the community. We congratulate Fiona Patten MP, leader of the Reason Party, whose actions to expand vilification legislation led to the inquiry and this result.

The cooperation across party lines to benefit the community is a credit to all our politicians and to our parliamentary democracy in Victoria. The Victorian Government is to be commended for its leadership in considering, consulting and now addressing the concerns raised by the people of Victoria through their representatives.

We welcome the government’s commitment not only to reform the relevant laws, but also to seek input from the Victorian Community into other responses. The promised consultation with community groups that experience vilification is vital to an effective response. We remind the Government that focusing exclusively on representative groups, to the exclusion of other specialised civil society groups, has been a significant policy flaw in the past. This occurs in consultations, appointments, and grant making. We need to see this addressed. There are some areas, such as combating online vilification, where the involvement of specialist organisations that tackle a particular form of vilification manifestations, regardless of the groups targeted, are essential to an effective response.

The Victorian Government’s Anti-Racism Taskforce will provide valuable support in the development of a broad Anti-Racism Strategy and we welcome its formation. We congratulate the community members appointed to the Taskforce: Dr Susan Carland, Wesa Chau, Chris Christoforou, Farhat Firdous, Aisha Hassan, Joy Juma, Rabbi Gabi Kaltmann, Elvis Martin, Prof. Yin Paradies, Chuol Puot and Ruby Tribe. This is a great selection of community leaders with diverse skills and expertise, and we look forward to meeting with them.

We particularly welcome the Victorian Government’s in principle adoption of recommendation 35 from the report, a commitment to work with the Online Hate Prevention Institute, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, and the Office of the eSafety Commissioner to develop a strategy to reduce and prevent vilification online. This strategy specifically makes mention of the need to facilitate data collection and publication, areas where the Online Hate Prevention Institute, with the assistance of our propriety Fight Against Hate software tool, have been world leaders. With the support of the Victorian Government, we can lead not only Australia but the world in this space. We note the Government’s comment that “any strategy with the aim of mitigating or preventing online vilification should be coordinated at a national level with the Commonwealth and other states and territories”. The Online Hate Prevention Institute is actively helping to shape national policy and engagements and we would welcome greater collaboration with the Victorian Government in this space.

The government is right to say that “the implementation of any strategy [to prevent vilification online] will require considerable government investment above existing levels” and that this will require consideration in the setting of the state budget, however, we are reminded of the words of Inga Peulich (then Shadow Minister for Multicultural Affairs) in the Victorian Parliament six years ago in September 2015:

“While this advisory group may inform government decisions, there are lots of opportunities to make a difference in the short term. One of those is the work that is being undertaken by the Online Hate Prevention Institute… The minister would be well advised to spend some of that money in the short term to make a difference through some of these short-term measures while we are looking at the medium and long-term measures for improving social cohesion and community resilience.”

We would welcome both a strategic integration of our capacities within a broad Victorian Government response to online vilification, an approach that will take some time, and some more immediate collaboration. There are many opportunities that are immediately available, and which would require only a small government investment. We look forward to discussing these opportunities with the government.

We commend the Government on their response to the Inquiry into anti-vilification protections and look forward to further collaboration to reduce harm to individuals and enhancing the safety of the community.